After 20 years as a professor, I started a company. I wasn’t commercializing any IP from my academic work. I wanted to build a company that responded to a generalized problem that had been revealed through years of academic research.
In this talk I’ll address how the various aspects of building a company are, in essence, design problems. Both obvious tasks like fundraising, ideation, prototyping, and user testing, as well as less obvious processes like manufacturing, marketing, sales, and hiring can all be approached as design problems at heart. There are lots of ways to build a company, and I’ll share the experience of building with a design perspective at the center of decision-making.
Caution: there may be adult language involved.
I’m a researcher, educator, and entrepreneur who blends disciplinary perspectives to identify hidden problems and craft innovative solutions. I began my career as a professor in the humanities, studying how diverse communities used a then text-based Internet to organize and enact change. After a decade of work on technology adoption, adaptation, and usage patterns in low resource communities around the world, I became a professor in engineering in order to collaborate on building better solutions to intransigent problems. My current work focuses on the potential of non-experts to create disruptive solutions, and I build programs that help people become functional engineers so they can solve problems in their communities.
In terms of actual job titles, I am a Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington where I co-direct the Tactical and Tactile Technology Lab (formerly the Design for Digital Inclusion lab).I am also co-founder and CEO of Shift Labs, a company that builds simple medical devices that solve huge unmet problems at a price point global markets can afford.
At UW I also created the Hackademia Project which builds innovation potential among broad audiences by imparting functional engineering skills combined with design thinking. My technology development projects have included work on a low-cost ultrasound system for midwives in Uganda and a grassroots public transportation information system in Kyrgyzstan.
I’ve been the Director of Innovation at the Makerbot Foundation (2013), a Fulbright professor at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2000), a Visiting Faculty Researcher at Microsoft Research (2007), and a Fellow (2007-2009) and Faculty Associate (2009-present) at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. I’ve lectured around the world, and consulted for a variety of NGOs, including extensive fieldwork in Cambodia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, and Kenya.