The CEO is an eighth-grader

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Boy creates game that employs chemistry to snatch rivals' electrons

May 14, 2008|By Mike Cassidy | Mike Cassidy,San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The young chief executive could squeeze a reporter in late in the day - right after the call with 60 Minutes.

The guy juggles a busy schedule. There's English, math, social studies, P.E. And hey, a guy's got to find time to shoot a few hoops and torment his little sister.

Young, remember? Like 14 years old. In a land of the young entrepreneur, eighth-grader Anshul Samar, CEO of Alchemist Empire Inc., makes Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg look like Methuselah.

"Legally I'm the CEO," Anshul says from Alchemist's Cupertino, Calif., world headquarters, which also serves as his family's living room, "but if I sign anything Mom or Dad has to countersign."

This kid isn't kidding around. Anshul started noodling with the idea in fifth grade when he couldn't get his father interested in playing Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! with him, despite the card games' rage status among the fifth-grade set.

"I never really got it," Vipin Samar, an Oracle Corp. vice president, says of the card games. "He figured out that while kids are into fun and excitement, parents are always looking for an educational angle."

Anshul came up with a card game called Elementeo, www.elementeo.com, that challenges players to employ the principles of chemistry to vanquish their opponents. The game's cards feature elements as characters who form compounds and undergo chemical reactions that players use to rob their rivals of electrons.

Why chemistry?

"To me it's extremely exciting," Anshul says, "the reactions and explosions and exploring new ideas."

He researched the science largely on his own - poring over library books and surfing the Internet.

"Thank God for Wikipedia," he says.

He hired a team of artists from around the world using Elance, the freelancer Web site.

"One doesn't even know I'm a kid."

He's talked to venture capitalists and grown-up entrepreneurs. He's set up booths at the TiEcon entrepreneurs convention and the American Chemical Society's meeting.

He chatted up Elementeo with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman when he bumped into her at TiEcon.

He persuaded his father to invest and he plans to begin selling his first run of 5,000 games late this month. Anshul's dad says his stake is "less than $100,000."

And though Anshul never leads with it, he's done it all while battling painful juvenile arthritis and fending off a rare lung disease that kept him out of school for much of seventh grade. He's doing much better now and the prognosis is good.

"I was finally able to run a mile," he says, moving off message for just a moment.

Anshul is all about the message. He is a bundle of positive energy who looks you right in the eye as he rapidly explains that the beauty of Elementeo is that its educational bent means parents will buy it for their kids.

And his message is getting buzz, which is pure gold. 60 Minutes apparently was considering a story on a Palo Alto, Calif., forum focusing on teens and technology. Anshul is one speaker. He's talked to The New York Times, Fox Business news, National Public Radio, Popular Science and Wired.com. He was a cover story on India Today and TV talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres is apparently interested.

Hey, the kid's got chemistry and charisma and a $25 game that has science supporters excited.

After Tom Lane met Anshul last month at the chemical society meeting, he pre-ordered 50 copies of the game. Lane, the society's president-elect, says Elementeo is the sort of weapon educators need to get kids interested in math, science and engineering again.

"If, in fact, he can really get other kids interested in the discussion," Lane says, "then he's been very successful."

That would be cool, Anshul agrees. But he's a businessman with a business plan. He's out to raise $500,000 in angel investment, which will go toward a second run of 50,000 games. And the revenue side?

"The goal," he says, "is to have a million dollars in revenue by the end of this year."

First things first. There's the matter of this month's shipment and organizing a launch party. Of course, despite Anshul's optimism, the champagne is on hold.

At least for another seven years.

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