#Braigo: Beyond winning Science Fairs?

Note: Originally published on Linkedin Pulse on March 29, 2015 with the same Title.

Many of you may have heard about Braigo or Braigo Labs, if not, a simple "google search" will give you an idea. There are three articles that referenced me and how Braigo is evolving, "Science Fairs aren't actually preparing your kids to do anything", "Want to invent the next big thing? Think like a kid" and "10 lessons on developing ideas from Shubham Banerjee's story". This motivated me to write down my personal thoughts. I have been asked this question many times by the media over the course of one year; Why I did not stop after winning the science fair? Through this post, I am explaining my thought process and how the environment at home impacted my decision.

I have been raised in an unconventional way by my parents Niloy (Neil) Banerjee and Malini Banerjee. At home, effective learning takes higher precedence than scoring good grades, winning competitions and resume building. This applies to both me and my younger sister and provides me with an independence to think broader and not become "bookish" or an expert in cracking exams. Though many people have posted comments that I am brilliant, I feel, the usage of the word is relative to whom you are talking to and has different measurement points and cannot be as simple like having a high IQ or straight A+ grades. In the top part of this post , I added my first award in kindergarten , titled "Common Sense" and as you proceed further in this post, it makes a lot of sense.

I stumbled upon an idea: What can I do to experiment and find a cheaper solution to the high cost of Braille Printers? and I simply followed through in coming up in developing a prototype with my favorite toy "Lego" and I termed my project Braigo (punch of words Braille+Lego) v1.0 and made it open source with directions to build one with the idea that people can run with it and enhance it even further. Check out this early youtube video , where I provided the demo and eventually posted full directions on how to build.

[Video 1: Initial Braigo Demo]

Initially, I received a lot of flak of even taking a Lego model for a middle school science fair where many others worked on amazing projects. Some of those project names I could not pronounce correctly. I heard many jokes about the stupidity of my idea. In the back of my mind , I didn't care what others thought since my parents have encouraged me and provided their full support. You will also find some cynical comments from others on the youtube post.

This teenager demonstrated a sophisticated, but by no means unusual, level of emotional maturity,” she said. “Part of regaining being able to successfully put that newfound creative flexibility to work for you is finding the ability to take input and build the opinions of others into your creative repertoire. - said Kristin J. Carothers, clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute inManhattan, New York.

My drive to continue my journey beyond winning the science fair and updating my resume was precisely the numerous feedback I received from blind institutes and parents of blind children. You can read some of the feedback on Braigo Labs website. Presenting in a science fair was a platform for me to show my creation and share with others. My first motivation was not about winning the science fair, otherwise I wouldn't have taken the Lego creation. Maybe those difficult worded science fair topics would have been a better candidate? I won the competition anyway, since it was unique and gave me the validation that I am on the right track.

[Pic 1: The Synopsis Outreach Foundation n+1 award]

I contacted the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the nation’s largest organization of science teachers with 55,000 members in over 100 countries, to clarify the confusion about strictly using the scientific method for science fair projects and whether toys can be used. An NSTA spokesperson replied to Quartz, “Unfortunately, I think this might be a little out of our scope. Perhaps Lego Education might be able to assist.” - Jenn Choi

Since winning the Science Fair in my 7th grade - Synopsis Outreach Foundation N+1 Prize for Physical Sciences , I eventually went on to work on my project to make a consumer version of the printer in the hope that this new low cost braille technology can reach millions of blind individuals worldwide. Well , the simple Lego idea evolved into something much bigger. Check this video.

[Video 2: Intel Capital Summit 2014]

Along the way , I was recognized and awarded globally (more than 15 as of now) for my effort and even an invited trip to the White House. I am now surrounded by an amazing team who are helping to take this idea to the market and launch the world's lightest, cheapest, most silent and IOT enabled Braille printer.

The idea is not an idea until it reaches the consumers - isn't it?

Thinking beyond science fairs was an opportunity that I could not pass. Specially thinking about those amazing complicated projects that I have seen in different science fairs. Don't know if any of those will ever reach the people for which it was meant for? But atleast , I am certain that Braigo will see the light of day in one form or the other in the hope of benefitting millions of blind people across the world. In the process , I have missed my 8th grade science fair winning opportunity. Maybe , if I took this discovery (check the video below) to the science fair, I had a fair chance of winning too?

[Video 3: Automatic Braille Transcription on-chip]

I don't want to generalize, but this is my own personal journey. There are always opportunities beyond winning a science fair. Sometimes an idea is worth pursuing more than normal where your "heart" takes over your "head".

Learning is a lifelong journey and cannot be measured by good grades, winning competitions and building a resume for admissions to Ivy League colleges for a better future (my parents would not mind if I don't get into one). Amount of sacrifices I am making today in terms of not being able to spend enough time to crack A+ in my exams or winning another science fair or participating in math and science olympiads, will be worth it when one blind person is able to read from the paper in braille when it comes out of a "Braigo" - thats my A+ grade in life and my contribution to society. This is not possible without the support of my parents and family.

[Pic 2: the proud family support - Inventor, Sister, Mother and Father]

10. Dream up big ideas to match big ambitions

Only your mind can limit your ideas and your attitude your ambition. Shubham - at just 13 years old - sees Braigo as a 'disruptor' with a mission to empower 50 million legally blind persons. His industry needs another player "to stir up the pot". Shubham proves a combination of heart, humility and intelligence will propel you and your idea. - Phil Rodriquez

My journey continues beyond Science Fairs, more to come.

Shubham Banerjee

Braigo Labs Inc., 2600 El Camino Real, Suite 415, Palo Alto, CA 94306

A recipient of multiple awards for innovation and regularly featured in International and National Media including CNN, NBC, ABC, PBS, NPR, CBC, BBC,Discovery and many others. Shubham is the Evangelist/Founder of Braigo Labs Inc. and the inventor of Braigo. In 2014, became the youngest entrepreneur to receive Venture Capital Funding for Braigo Labs Inc. He is also a highly sought after keynote speaker both by corporations and conferences.
Shubham was born in Hasselt, Belgium. The family moved to San Jose, California when he was 4 years old. Later he moved to Santa Clara, California and completed his elementary schooling at Don Callejon School. He completed his middle school from Champion School in San Jose and is currently at Archbishop Mitty High School (class of 2019). He continues to reside in Santa Clara, California with his parents and younger sister.