12.27.2016People

Superhero kids of STEM: Meet Ben Stern

By: Kendall Lee
A 17-year-old entrepreneur investigates clean solutions to the world’s dirty oceans

In this multi-part series, we’ve asked young inventors under the age of 21 to tell their stories of what inspired them to start creating, how they found success and what they hope for the future.

Who: Ben Stern,17, from Melbourne, Florida.

My innovation: I am the inventor of The Nohbo Ball, a single-use eco-friendly shampoo ball.

My origin story: One day I was in high school biology class and saw that by the year 2050 there could be as many plastic bottles in the ocean as there will be fish.

Growing up in Washington State and now living in Florida I’ve been eco-minded for most of my life. I used to have a coffee company that helped raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, but I realized I couldn’t grow the business, so I decided to focus on different projects.

The next time I finished a shampoo bottle in the shower I went to throw it out and wondered how many people recycle those bottles when they’re so far away from the recycling bin, which is often in the kitchen. Later I found out that only a fraction of people consistently recycle shampoo bottles from their bathroom. That made me think about a way to create a shampoo and conditioner that didn’t need plastic packaging, and eventually led me to work with a chemist to develop the Nohbo shampoo balls that don’t need a bottle.

Ben Stern is the inventor of The Nohbo Ball, a single-use eco-friendly shampoo ball.

Bringing my idea to life: Since launching my company I’ve been on “Shark Tank,” which led to an investment from Mark Cuban. I’m 17, but it still took a lot of work to get where I am.

I have a lot of ideas, but I haven’t always been so focused.  One day my dad and I decided to do something fun and we went to a psychic. She told me I would be successful, but only if I started writing down my ideas on a legal pad with a pen. That kind of focus and discipline has enabled me to develop the Nohbo ball.

Stern learned that the best way to build a sustainable company is to focus on one factor and then move on to the next thing.

What I’m doing now: Working with Mark Cuban, I’ve learned the best way to build a sustainable company is to focus on one factor and then move on to the next thing. Being unfocused is the number one thing that kills a startup. As a result of the company, I’ve been on Fortune’s 18 Under 18 list and met some other amazing young people, like a successful 19-year-old venture capitalist.

I hope to develop other companies in the future, but I want to stay focused on the Nohbo ball in the near future.

We need more: Practical inventions.

Why we need more: The idea of a self-driving car is very cool, but I look forward to seeing those small innovations that will fix our everyday problems.

Read more essays by young inventors

Learn more about how the Verizon Foundation supports them through Verizon Innovative Learning

About the author(s): 

Kendall Lee is a senior manager in the Verizon Foundation.