Entrepreneurs and Makers: Breaking and Innovating

Written by Jessica Cox | June 16, 2015

Photos of Karen and Virginia IngramV2V Advisory Board blog posts continue today with a second edition from Karen Ingram (website, Twitter) and Virginia Ingram (website, Twitter), a sister duo who have been working in the digital and startup space since the late 1990’s. The Ingram Sisters have been attending, presenting and curating SXSW events since the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. In this series hear their stories, read about their experiences as entrepreneurs and follow the sessions they're most excited to see at V2V.

What exactly is a maker? According to Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, a maker is anyone who “just love(s) to make things”. TechShop is a makerspace where any array of maker, e.g., engineers, artists, designers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, crafters, etc., make presents, projects, or prototypes for new products (how’s that for alliteration). Mark is the author of the Maker Movement Manifesto, and outlines the spirit of a maker in a distillation of nine action items: Photo of Mark Hatch

  • Make
  • Share
  • Give
  • Learn
  • Tool up
  • Play
  • Participate
  • Support
  • Change

Each aspect of the manifesto is fluid. Hatch encourages makers to tinker with the manifesto to make it their own, breaking it into something that works. He humorously contrasts two different approaches to “Play” in the manifesto- that of the artist and that of the engineer:

What is interesting is that the engineers typically come to a machine with a set of things they are trying to accomplish. The artists, often enough, come to a machine to experiment and see what it can do. (They also tend to break the machines a little more often, and not because they don’t know how to operate them; they are just pushing the equipment to do something beyond its normal operating environment.) When the two are combined, watch out.

Experimenting and tinkering facilitates innovation. In our experience, failure and discomfort- even burnout can also result in a line of questioning that spawns new thinking, new approaches, and new collaborations. We see the breaker and the maker in cahoots; those characteristics an essential aspect of entrepreneurship.

Karen, an artist, went to a synthetic biology lab lead by Natalie Kuldell at MIT, where she brilliantly failed to engineer a photosensitive bacteria that would yield a living “photograph”. She became obsessed with her failure. What went wrong? What was supposed to happen? How did those biological circuits work? Down the rabbit hole she went, diagramming her experience to understand the process. Because of that broken-down experience, Karen took the time to dissect what happened and it paid off. The creation of that diagram lead to a fruitful collaboration.

Photo of Stephanie StaidleStephanie Staidle of The Right Brained Entrepreneur (TRBE for short) believes risk taking and big picture thinking are an effective route to problem solving and help avoid burnout. In effect, tapping into the hidden potential and possibility that exists in the proverbial “black box” of our brains.

Virginia experienced burnout when she was working a 50-60 hour a week job and serving as the primary caregiver for a family member with Alzheimer’s. She left her job, and retreated to Costa Rica and Miami to learn new skills and gain a new perspective. While on sabbatical she came to the realization that the way we approach problem solving for the disenfranchised was so broken she could no longer ignore it; she began advocating for people to design for the fringe.

The maker world is undergoing an interesting evolution- the outputs are becoming more polished. Seemingly, the opposite of broken. In a recent presentation given by Chris Anderson at Maker Faire, Anderson observed: (starting at 11:45):

a divergence… now to be a successful Kickstarter project, you need to be polished. You need to look like a consumer electronics product. You need industrial design and manufacturing experience. We’re seeing the pros to go off into what looks like traditional consumer electronics stuff, and they’re going to Shenzhen. Shenzhen’s representing a lot of this.

Makers have transitioned from selling assemblages of bags of parts with microcontrollers that one had to assemble. Now, maker goods express an amount of polish. They now have their sights on readying goods for mass production through hardware accelerator programs like that of V2V keynote Brady Forrest's Highway1. An overview of Highway1’s program:

We look for great hardware startups, with an exciting business idea and a compelling prototype... We help them design a product that delivers value to customers, that’s delightful to use and that can be made at scale.

Photo of Brady ForrestThe Highway1 programs takes all of their entrepreneurs to Shenzhen so they can understand supply chain infrastructure, inventory management, and retail distribution. Could the future yield a slew of "internet of everything" connected polished products, with roots in the maker scene? Essentially Highway1 is helping their participants understand what it means to be a maker AND a manufacturer. Products like those supported by Highway 1 could improve our lives in many ways, a small sampling of how:

Maintain our homes: Birdie
Birdie is an air quality monitor that lets everyone know when there’s an emergency via mobile. If it’s (literally) a false alarm, you can shut off the device with your phone.

Express ourselves: Switch Embassy
Products like those created by Switch Embassy allow us to stand out in a crowd. You can bet I’ll be getting a Ballentine shirt once it’s out. Talk about sending a message from across the room.

Keep tabs on our health: CUE
CUE, a health tracker that allows us to take our own samples, employs microfluidics to bring the lab directly into your home to monitor your health. With the combination of the cloud, and personal diagnostics, some day soon we may be able to track the flu like we track the weather. How cool is that?

So, mitches and bitches... What are we breaking next? I’m ready for it!

You can hang out with the Ingram sisters and see Mark Hatch, Stephanie Staidle and Brady Forrest speak at SXSW V2V this July in Vegas… We’ll be breaking things and taking names.

There are still four days remaining to save $100 off the walkup registration rate! Register for SXSW V2V before midnight on Friday, June 19 to take advantage of this discount. Speaking of discounts, the SXSW Housing Department has great rates for your stay at the official V2V hotel, the Bellagio Las Vegas. Contact the Housing Department today to stay in the heart of the action!