ARTRPRNR Suz Somersall of KiraKira is Teaching Young Girls 3D Printing & Engineering


Kira Kira is cultivating the next generation of innovators, makers, designers, and architects. They are teaching young woman and girls with the confidence to pursue careers in 3D Printing and Design technology and change the world for the better.

Mike: So how did KiraKira get started?

Suz: I studied engineering in college and didn’t really feel like the classes resonated with me.

I switched to art school, thinking it would be amazing. I’m going to make these beautiful things and it’s going to be fun and relaxing. It wasn’t.

It was so hard…being at a bench for eight hours sanding a piece of metal. I thought I’d be going insane.

I stumbled upon a 3D modeling class and I was like, “Oh, my God. This is amazing.” I could sit at a computer and test the parameters of the possibilities of how thin or large I could print something, how much could make this look like it hasn’t been created by a machine and make it look organic!

I became very obsessed with the process of 3D modeling and 3D printing. For me, as an artist, that felt more freeing than working with my hands.

I started doing it in graduate school and then I started a company where I, basically, 3D modeled all of my artwork and then sold it online. (which pivoted into KiraKira).

I had has some girls from the university working as interns and they kept coming to me and were like, “I want to learn how to use engineering software. I want to make what you’re making.”

So I suggested they start taking beginner classes at the university where they had a  $5 million 3D printing and rapid prototyping lab, which was empty all the time.

Within 1-3 days of them joining the class, they all lost interest. I wanted to understand why they were losing interest, so I started taking the same introductory classes that they were taking online and I realized that the content is just very boring, and there wasn’t a lot of diversity in the content.

It was just following the instructions step by step on how to make a wrench or an auto part but was not visually engaging and was lacking creativity. It wasn’t around design thinking and problem-solving, art.

 

So I decided to create my own classes and start giving them to students at the University of Virginia.

Then I had middle school and high school classrooms ask to use them too. I was like, “Hmm, seems like maybe this is something I should do more of.”

I moved out to San Francisco with no funding and no team and started pitching the idea of this education company, and raised some money from Intel Capital. I was able to scale our content and our user base to about 100,000 users last year and then partnered with  HP and Autodesk, that helped us with our distribution.

We actually just released our first IOS app  few weeks ago. That is a 3D modeling, 3D printing VAST experience on your phone.

Mike: So it’s a crash course?

Suz: Yeah, we’re just trying to use it as a gateway to get kids excited about creating. What I talked about at Tech Open Air was that 3D printing and 3D printers are becoming more and more ubiquitous and it’s coming. I think tech visionaries like Eric Schmidt and even Stephen Hawking know that this is something that’s important.

Eric Schmidt sat alongside self-driving cars and augmented reality. He’s cited as one of the top five Tech Trends 3D printed buildings. I think it’s just something that people see as inevitable, although it’s not happening quite as fast as the hype all built it up to be, it is happening.

I the reason a company like HP partnered with us is because they see the same problem that we see. That as the 3D printing hardware becomes more available, there’s still this missing link of education.

We have to educate the next generation about how to use these tools and give them resources and to learn mechanical engineering.

Mike: How has partnering with HP helped you with distributing your product?

Suz: Actually in several ways, first off they are  preloading our app on the two million firm books that are going into education systems worldwide later this year.

They’re also packaging our classes with the HP Sprout, which is their new 3D scanner and promoting us in school districts.

Miami-Dade County School District is one of them. There are 345,000 students and so we’re making unique content for that school district.

What’s been the greatest challenge in getting your company to where it is today?

Suz: I think it’s just managing stress, and being okay with uncertainty, and not getting too attached to any wins and any losses. I try to just roll with the punches more. I used to be more affected by those peaks and valleys but I’m trying to be more steady for the team.

Mike: What kind of advice would you share for dealing with stress?

Suz: That’s a really good question. I think you have to find what works for you. For me, exercise, like running.

Also, leaning on friends. For me, leaning on my partner too much can be really toxic for the relationship, especially if you vent emotional stuff all to one person. It’s going to be too much for them.

 

I had advisers tell me that and then I just ignored it. I was like, “No. I’m just going to lean on my boyfriend all the time.”

 

Having a support network is also really helpful. Having other entrepreneurs that you can talk to because they really get it. Just making sure that you’re not taxing one person in your life, that you’re going to a lot of different people – you have a support network under you.

 

Mike: What is your proudest career moment?

Suz: I would say probably opening our maker studio in Ghirardelli Square and seeing kids come in and actually using our products and learning. Then they go off and create their own designs.

 

Having been a tech entrepreneur, I never get to interact with the users, so getting to see the things that they’re creating in person, and the joy it brings them, it’s like, “Yes!” You can see the confidence as they start building up these engineering skills and they get these ideas for what they want to build next.

 

Mike: What do you consider your greatest strength as an entrepreneur?

Suz: That would probably be a better question for my team.

I did a leadership assessment and I think the highest part that I ranked on, according to my team, was inspiring the heart and getting people that work for me to know that the reason why they’re doing this is for this amazing social mission. I think if you can convey the importance to your team and carry it with you, it goes a long way in terms of team building, investors, and a lot of aspects of being an entrepreneur.

Mike: On the flip side of that, where do you feel most challanged?

Suz: Focus.

Something that Bill Gates (I think) said really inspired me. He said, “most people overestimate the amount of work that they can get done within two years, but most people underestimate the amount of work that they can get done in ten years.”

 

You need to just stick with it and not give up, while opening up to pivoting a bit and getting some feedback, of course. Don’t be blind to signals. If you stay focused and keep going, there’s a lot that you can do.

 

Mike: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from a mistake?

Suz: Not replying to emails fast enough and then missing an opportunity.

I missed an opportunity for a $250,000 investment because I was distracted and wanted to make the email perfect, and then weeks went by and then I forgot about it. Then I realized, after the fact that I had missed it, I was so mad at myself, but lesson learned. Even if it’s just a little email, get it off and keep that dialogue going, because it’s rude if you don’t.

Mike: Last question. What do you love most about what you’re doing?

Suz: Blending art and engineering, but making something that might have been inaccessible to some people now, more accessible through creating diversity and content. Also, seeing that there isn’t really this weird distinction between art and engineering. An artist is an engineer, as an architect is a musician. I believe all of that. I think that’s what guides us.

If you’re interested in learning how to 3D print, check out KiraKira on their website.

 

Career Opportunity

KiraKira is always looking for interns and new employees. They’re also always hiring artists. Currently, they have 10 RISD students and a couple of Stanford D. School students. If you’re interested in working with the team and think this might be a fun opportunity that fits your future endeavors, check out their career page for more information!


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