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Vandessa Chan working at NextFab

What brought corporate executive Vanessa Chan out of the corporate world and into NextFab? She claims that it was her inner tinkerer and love for jewelry design, but this highly creative maker with a Ph.D. in Material Sciences and Engineering takes tinkering to another level. Chan’s ability to fuse her tech engineering chops with her playful creativity is at the heart of her new company.

As a grad student at MIT, Chan was introduced to McKinsey & Company, an international business analysis, and management consulting firm. Feeling that a deeper knowledge of business would help to round out her engineering degree, she decided to take a job with them “for a year or two,” which turned into fourteen. She spent most of her time at McKinsey as the North American Innovation Practice, focusing on finding unique solutions to problems via new technologies.

She loved the work and excelled at it, but when she turned forty, she reassessed her future. “When you go soul searching, you tend to go back to what you loved as a kid, and I loved making things,” says Chan. “Even as a McKinsey partner, though I didn’t have a lot of spare time, I was making these insane cakes for my children. In fact, I was in the Wall Street Journal for it! I never thought I’d be in the Wall Street Journal for making cakes!” Chan also knits, makes jewelry, and is the one in her household who “builds the Ikea furniture.”

It was time for a change. Chan believed that she could build her own business built on her tinkering instinct and “gripe-based” engineering (a need to fix things that bug her), bolstered by new business models, including crowdfunding platforms (like Kickstarter). She left McKinsey and found NextFab, “I decided to leave the corporate world and embrace the inner tinkerer, and NextFab was a good part of that.”

Chan continues, “I met [NextFab founder] Evan Malone at a Pennsylvania Society meeting. He introduced himself and said he was the owner and founder of NextFab. I said, ‘NextFab, what’s that?’ When he explained it to me I was intrigued. At that point in time, I was working at a corporate job so I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth to go do anything. But as I was thinking about transitioning and really embracing my inner tinkerer, something like NextFab sounded like the perfect place for me to go find my peeps. So I came to one of the Open Studios that was advertised. Since I like making jewelry, I saw that they were doing a fun thing and I stopped by and asked if I could bring my kids [age 7 and 9], they said, ‘absolutely!’ So I brought my two daughters and they were making laser engraved key chains and we were just hooked!”

Loopit jewelry made at NextFab makerspace
re.design’s loopit, photo courtesy of Vanessa Chan

Through her new company, re.design, Vanessa is prepping for the launch of her first product, loopit. “One of my big gripes… I’m using my phone all the time and use headphones. I’m constantly finding my headphones. I find them, I fish them out, and have to untangle them and it’s this very involved process. Nine times out of ten they are tangled in a way that takes several minutes to untangle and the aggravation is staggering!”

Loopit jewelry made at NextFab
photo Courtesy of Vanessa Chan

Chan designed the loopit as a solution to this problem. The product consists of an attractive, lightweight chain with headphone cords interwoven between the links. Magnetic clasps in the chain complete the features, allowing users to conceal the tech in the form of an elegant necklace. Simply unlatch the clasps, and you have fully-functioning headphones.

Loopit metal product tags made at NextFab
loopit tags, photo courtesy of Vanessa Chan

Chan also recognized the importance of promoting the brand in each unit, right from the beginning. For loopit, she decided to make tags with laser-engraved marks including the brand and website. To begin production, Chan recruited the help of NextFab’s 3D and Laser Processes Supervisor, Scott Newcomb. Together they created a small jig that is placed on the laser cutter bed. After small metallic tags are placed in each jig space, a laser cutter precisely etches the tags. Chan is very enthusiastic about the process and speed at which she was able to learn to make the jigs and engrave the tags, noting that Newcomb had her up and running on the laser in just two hours. The tags would otherwise require stamping and orders of pieces in the thousands.

Close up of engraving jig on the laser bed at NextFab
Engraving jig on the laser bed at NextFab’s North Fourth location, photo courtesy of Vanessa Chan

“Vanessa’s been a joy to watch. She’s collaborative, kind, and curious,” states Laate Olukotun, NextFab’s marketing manager. “It’s exciting to see a talented, focused member quickly move a product from concept into production. Her ideas and vision leave others thinking ‘maybe I can do what she’s doing.’ We’re looking forward to seeing how her product launch goes.”

Loopit will be available for purchase in the next couple of months. To find out more, check out this link.

Do you have an idea that you would like to get off the ground? Come see what you can do at NextFab. Our Open Studio Nights at North Fourth happen every Wednesday and continue until February 10, 2016.

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