Student spotlight

Lessons learned by a 17-year-old CEO

Nilesh Mukherji isn’t just any high school senior.

He’s the kind who, after a short-lived high school football career plagued by shoulder injuries, launched a startup, 3dema, that uses 3D image analysis to measure inflammation. He’s already workshopped it with Google engineers at a startup incubator, and he’s currently transitioning the tech from desktop to mobile app.

This might be your first time hearing Nilesh’s name, but we’ll hazard a guess it won’t be your last. We caught up with him to talk student travel, good teachers, and what success really means to him.

You traveled to Berlin for EF’s Global Leadership Summit. What sticks with you from that experience?
We stumbled into this area of the city that no tourists really go to. Just seeing some of the art that was spray-painted on the walls, the little shops selling journals and books, wandering and seeing the absolute beauty of the city. It’s crazy how different things are as a tourist versus a traveler. EF opened my eyes to what it’s like to explore a place and really get to know people, especially my travelmates, who are still some of my best friends.

What were your major takeaways from the leadership conference portion of the trip?
One of the biggest lessons from the student leadership summit was in accommodating for other people’s communication styles. Another was effective networking, getting past all “the weather is nice outside” chit-chat. The ability to talk to people about real things very quickly has been invaluable in forming relationships with not only “work” people—partners and potential investors and clients—but also friends and acquaintances in my day-to-day life.

Let’s talk about teachers. Is there an educator who’s had a particular impact on you over the years?
I’d come into [my high school] classrooms with these crazy ideas…I remember walking into a classroom trying to figure out how some English principle related to [an economics principle]—which, you know, made no sense. Instead of shrugging it off, my teacher pumped me up to look into it, get creative, and find novel ways of answering questions. She always encouraged her students to find new ways to succeed.

Have you come up with a definition of success that works for you as both a student and an entrepreneur?
I think true success is being comfortable with where you are, being optimistic about where you’re going, and not letting other people define the path ahead of you.

If you asked me this freshman year, my definition would have been getting out of high school without doing anything particularly bad, and getting into a decent college. Oh, and playing varsity football. [Laughs.] Things change.

Want to learn more about EF’s Global Leadership Summits for middle and high school students? Visit


Heather McHugh

Heather is a writer and associate creative director at EF. She drinks an excessive amount of seltzer, she’s happiest when she’s at the beach, and, if she wasn’t a writer, she’d probably be a professional organizer. Her favorite place to visit is Italy.

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