Teen entrepreneur Khushi Shah of Peoria is turning heads with her high-tech irrigation system, among other accomplishments
Some kids make volcanoes out of baking soda and vinegar for their school science project. Some kids do the ol’ egg drop.
But if you’re Khushi Shah, you create a smart and efficient irrigation system that is drawing raves from fans many years her senior.
Shah, the daughter of parents who emigrated from India in pursuit of the American dream, is a changemaker, entrepreneur, mentor and founder of Drizzl, an irrigation solution and future business now in the testing phase of its development. And she’s only 18.
Seeing a problem, fixing it
Her parents, Vaibhav and Hetal Shah, are engineers whose careers meant moving around a lot. By the time Khushi graduated high school, she had attended 13 schools across three different countries. Her international childhood gave her a global mindset and many unique experiences. She saw cross-continental problems affecting different populations around the globe.
When Shah was in seventh grade, she traveled to visit family in India. There she saw a glaring problem. Many people were suffering from limited access to the basic human right of clean drinking water.
When she returned stateside and was assigned an eighth-grade science project at Dunlap Valley Middle School, it dawned on Shah that she could create a solution to lessen unnecessary water use.
E-Code was born.
E-Code was the original name for the concept that Shah would go on to develop into Drizzl.
How does Drizzl work?
E-Code/Drizzl consists of two parts. The first is the thermometer-sized underground humidity sensor that is placed in the soil. The second is an accompanying app which connects to the sensor.
When the user inputs two simple bits of information — the location, which allows the app to pull up a constantly updating precipitation forecast, and the type of plant — the app will notify the user when the plant needs watering. It was created to be user-friendly, so anyone with a garden, farm or even just a houseplant can use it.
“It’s similar to Google Nest technology. Everything is connected,” said Shah, who’d seen plenty of automatic sprinklers operating during a rainfall, effectively wasting water.
“The goal of the smart system is to eliminate the use of time-based irrigation systems, like automatic sprinklers, which don’t take into account precipitation,” she said. Her system ensures that plants aren’t over-watered and that users save money on their water bill, a win-win.
Beyond that, Drizzl forces the user to think more about when water is really needed and how much water is actually needed.
Her system ensures that plants aren’t over-watered and that users save money on their water bill
Many people in the U.S. don’t worry about where their clean drinking water is coming from. We often don’t step back to consider what a luxury water is.
Average daily water usage in the United States is about 1.22 trillion liters. “Irrigation alone takes up 37% of this,” said Shah.
According to National Geographic, drier climates and climates with only seasonal rainfall can’t sustain agriculture without irrigation. About 18% of the world’s crops rely on irrigation to thrive, which has greatly expanded in the last few decades, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.
By using Drizzl for irrigation, homeowners can save up to 25% on water bills. Meanwhile, the United States as a whole could save 4.5 billion liters of water a day from being unnecessarily used.
Creating a business from scratch
Shah started her high school career at Dunlap High School. When the pandemic shut down in-person learning, she applied to the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora. She completed the rest of her high school career there, save for the last quarter when she returned to Dunlap to graduate early and devote a full year to Drizzl.
She credits her mentors at IMSA and Dunlap High for encouraging her to take the working model she created for her science project and develop it into a business.
When she looks back, she realizes how valuable her mentors were in her journey.
“Having younger and more relatable mentors was very impactful,” said Shah.
As a result, she decided to step up and be a mentor to other young innovators. Shah speaks to students all over the world — 3,000 so far and counting — offering a build-a-business workshop and other presentations.
What’s next for Khushi Shah
Shah has been recognized by Google, NASA, the United States Navy and Forbes Ignite, in addition to the plaudits she’s receiving here at home.
“What Khushi has been able to do this far in her entrepreneurial journey is remarkable,” said Danielle Scarzello, her mentor at gBeta Distillery Labs, a think tank that helps startups in central Illinois. “She’s not your average 18-year-old and has shown a willingness to work hard and explore her options … The future of Drizzl, and Khushi as a founder, is what excites all of us at gBETA Distillery Labs and we’re with her every step of the way.”
Added Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council: “Khushi is the perfect example of the type of amazing talent and drive we have here in greater Peoria. She is not the type of person most regular folks would think of as an entrepreneur and innovator: a teenager, a female, a person of color. We have been excited to work with her, both on Drizzl but also to help define her path forward. We are excited to see where her future takes her.”
Meanwhile, Shah keeps plenty busy. She has an upcoming collaboration with Amazon Prime Video and a book in the works. Her most recent pursuit has been the podcast Rise and Shine with Khushi Shah. And she works full time as the CEO of Drizzl, of course. That is, until she goes to college in the fall.
“I’ll be studying in the computer science and business/entrepreneurship honors program at Northeastern University with cross-registration at Harvard and MIT,” said Shah. “I’ll be spending my first year in London and then heading to Cambridge University in Boston to finish up my degree.”