Every morning, Keiana Cavé looks in the mirror and tells herself to be a badass. And so far, her mantra has worked.
The University of Michigan freshman is a member of Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 — one of the youngest in the Energy category.
Cavé was recognized for her work surrounding the BP oil spill of April 2010, which she started researching at Tulane University when she was 15. Her primary goal was to prove that there is something more dangerous about a layer of oil sitting on the ocean surface than just pollution — the reaction of UV rays from the sun on the oil-water mixture eventually forms chemicals that can cause cancer.
“I started off (in high school) doing four sports: ballet, swim, cheer and track,” Cavé said. “The last thing on my mind was being in a lab 24/7 … I didn’t really think much of it — it was just a summer. It was cool. They paid me.”
Cavé entered her research in a local science fair, and ended up winning, despite her last-minute poster. She then went on to the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and earned second place out of 2,600 participants. As part of Cavé’s award, NASA and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory named asteroid “2000 GD136” after her. The award gave Cavé confidence about the importance of her work and motivated her to take it further.
“I had to first show that (these carcinogens) actually exist,” Cavé said. “And then once I showed that they exist I had to show that they are harmful, and then after that I moved into finding a solution.”
Before her research, the methods used to clean up oil spills weren’t dealing with the carcinogens at all. So Cavé invented a carcinogen-fighting molecule, and turned her research into her own business — a startup called Mare. Now she is funded by Chevron, which gave her $1.2 million to continue her research.
“It started off as just the molecule, just the oil spill, but now I think the company is more based off of the neutralization of toxins,” Cavé said. “I’m sure you read articles all the time, if you’re ever scrolling through Facebook, and you see something that says: ‘Warning! Don’t use your deodorant anymore because it will give you cancer!’ It can get pretty serious. … We want those companies to come to us so that we can neutralize whatever carcinogen is in the product without compromising the integrity of the product.”
But Cavé didn’t originally know how to run a business. Last summer, she was the youngest-ever attendee of the Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp at MIT, where she figured out how to translate her complicated research into a comprehensible marketing platform. Now, she manages the business, has a team of people working for her and personally connects with Mare’s clients, including Chevron and Brazilian Blowout.
Cavé also holds two patents and has published two research papers. Her work with Microsoft is further proof of her unparalleled intellect. She taught herself HTML at age 8 and worked for Microsoft, designing websites for more than a year while still in high school.
After receiving a full ride to the University, Cavé enrolled in the College of Engineering, where she is studying chemical engineering. While taking a full course load, Cavé also spends many late nights in the lab continuing her research. She finds time to be an active member of the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program — though she admits that she doesn’t sleep much.
In addition to all her scholastic and scientific pursuits, Cavé is a brand representative for Lululemon and Francesca’s, advertising their clothing through her social media posts. Lululemon reached out to Cavé specifically, but she initiated the partnership with Francesca’s herself.
“I was on a flight from Miami to (Ann Arbor),” Cave said. “And they lost my luggage. I had a photoshoot with Humanly magazine … I was freaking out. It was all of my favorite stuff.”
“I went into disaster mode. I went to the mall and walked into Francesca’s and was like: ‘Look, I don’t have any money. The airport lost my stuff. I have a photoshoot. Is there anything you guys can do? Can you guys dress me?’ And that was the start of a relationship. So now, they give me stuff every two weeks, whenever they get new shipments.”
Francesca’s and Lululemon were not the only ones to crave Cavé’s influence, though. Her brand of female empowerment has been so prolific that MTV scooped Cavé up to do a short segment for their “A Woman Did That” campaign. The first one-minute bit was so successful that the network is planning on having Cavé return for a weekly segment.
Cavé has already accomplished more than most college graduates, a fact that was noted by Congressman Cedric Richmond (D–La.) Feb. 23, 2016, in his speech to the House of Representatives regarding Cavé’s accomplishments. But these days, Cavé is giving her own speeches.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to say, I’m doing a Ted Talk in Barcelona on May 4th,” Cavé said. “I’m actually going to talk about the power of being obnoxious.”
While Cavé attributes her success to “being obnoxious,” she pursues everything she does with vigor and dedication. That may be abrasive to some, but Cavé has single-handedly managed to change the world by the age of 19 — and that is definitely badass.
See the 7 other students of the year here.