Shubham Banerjee first created the printer for a school science fair
Shubham Banerjee may be the youngest Silicon Valley-based tech entrepreneur to ever receive funding from a venture-capital firm, but the 13-year-old has some typically teenage views on education.
“Math sucks,” Banerjee, who loves playing football and gets mostly A’s and B’s at his middle school, tells PEOPLE with a laugh. “I just don’t like it. My favorite subjects are Spanish and biology.”
Banerjee’s creation, which he constructed out of Legos for a science-fair project earlier this year, is a low-cost Braille printer that he hopes to one day sell for a fraction of its current $2,000 price tag.
“We’ve funded young entrepreneurs, but no one this young – certainly not in middle school,” a spokesman for Intel Capital says. The venture-capital firm recently announced an investment deal with Banerjee’s company, Braigo Labs, that one source estimates is worth several hundred thousand dollars.
In September, Banerjee attended a conference organized by Intel, the computer chip manufacturer that makes the microprocessor the teenager uses in his printer. That’s when an executive from the company surprised him with the deal.
“When he heard the news, he turned to me and said, ‘What did he just say?’ ” recalls Banerjee’s father, Neil, who describes his son as a “calm, deep thinker who is very passionate about the plight of other people.”
The genesis for Banerjee’s Braille printer came one morning when he spotted a flyer on the doorstep of the family’s home in San Jose, California, asking for donations for the visually impaired. An inquisitive kid, he confesses that he’d never met a blind person, but he suddenly found himself wondering how they read.
“I asked my parents,” he says, “but they were busy and told me to Google it.”
After a bit of research, he learned that an enormous percentage of the world’s 285 million visually impaired people live in developing countries – and was shocked that the price tag for Braille printers puts the technology out of reach for nearly all of them.
“It just seemed so high, especially for all these people living in developing countries,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have to bring the cost down.’ So I came up with my idea for a printer of my own that I built from Legos.”
The young inventor, who works on fine-tuning his most recent prototype model “mostly when I get home from school and on weekends when I have spare time,” is adjusting to life as a tech visionary.
“My title at the company is ‘founder,’ ” he says. “I can’t be the CEO because I’m not 18 yet.”
What’s next for the teenage whiz kid? “I just don’t know,” he says, laughing. “I could have an idea in the shower tomorrow.”