Santa Clara, California
At 12, Shudham Banerjee invented the Braigo, a braille printer that he built out of Legos for a science fair. That led to the formation of his company, Braigo Labs, which he founded with his parents.
Medium: What are you up to these days, in school and with your company?
Shudham Banerjee: Currently I’m a senior in high school at Santa Clara High. I’m on the football team, playing quarterback, and studying and making sure my grades are good so I can get into a good college. With the company, right now we are still in development for the final product. We are talking to different designers and have a lot of different things planned.
You were reportedly one of the youngest people ever to receive venture capital funding. Are you still actively out there looking for money? Or are you just doing development?
I can’t disclose too much, but there are a lot of talks with different companies.
What has been the hardest thing you’ve done so far in your life?
I think one of the hardest things was making my first invention — Braigo 1.0 — especially the start of the project. I had motivation, but I had no assurance that this was actually going to happen.
Let’s be clear: You were 12 years old then, right?
What was your motivation?
After researching and inquiring about vision-impaired people around the world, my motivation was just the people themselves. I asked myself: If not me, then who? It was just something I really wanted to do.
Most 12-year-olds are, you know, running around on their bikes and hanging out with their friends. But you were inventing stuff to help vision-impaired people.
I was still a normal 12-year-old. I was hanging out with my friends. I was riding my bike. But this was just something that I really needed to get done, because once I start something, I have to finish it. That’s my mindset.
On that note, what do adults get wrong about your generation?
People think that just because we’re teenagers, we don’t understand what’s going on. A lot of the people in my school know what’s going on — with gun violence in schools, Black Lives Matter. We’re all involved — super involved. And we’re about to make the political decisions in our country. But at the same time, I get where they come from, because there are a lot of other people in our generation who don’t understand what’s going on and don’t even care to have any involvement in any of the political discussions.
Would you say you are fundamentally an optimist or a pessimist?
Definitely an optimist. I will never look at the downside. Say, in football, if we’re losing by 30 points, I still don’t care. I still think the score is 0–0 and we’re going to score.
Why do you think you’re like that?
I think my parents have instilled that in me ever since I was young. They never told me to give up. They never told me just throw it away and start over. They always told me to persevere through everything and just keep my head up.
What do you think the future holds for the country?
I love America. I moved here from Belgium, but ever since, I’ve just been in love with the country. And definitely, we need to be united as a people, but once all that clears up, and once people really understand, I think we’ll be okay.
How old were you when you and your family came here? Was it hard?
I was about five. The transition was very quick and easy. I met friends really fast. I loved it here. The people are so nice. My teachers in kindergarten were very sweet to me.
Who in your life inspires you?
I think my dad inspires me the most. Seeing him come from a different country and then work his way up here in America and what he’s done — it inspires me a lot. He’s someone I really want to be like when I grow up.
This interview is part of The Edge of Adulthood: Forty-Six American Teens Discuss Their Lives, Their Struggles, and What’s Next.
Freelance journalist and author, humorist, traveler. Debut novel, The Ghost Manuscript, arrives April 2, 2019.
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