Employees become entrepreneurs at inaugural Idea Sprint

By Manette Newbold Fisher

Photography By Lonnie Anderson

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Yuliya Preger tests wallet protoype
CREATIVE PROTOTYPING — Sandia postdoc Yuliya Preger tests her ideal wallet protoype that could be worn on the arm and carry all the essentials. Idea Sprint participants used simple supplies to design prototypes in a training program challenge.

What if the wallet of the future fit in your ear like a wireless headphone?

Smaller than a smartwatch, it could access money using credit card, bank account and bitcoin data. On top of that, it would play music, store contacts, project holographic images of your photo IDs and charge wirelessly while you walk.

That was systems researcher and analyst Diana Bull’s idea at Sandia’s first Idea Sprint at the Lobo Rainforest, where a couple of dozen Sandia employees dove head first into entrepreneurial training. UNM’s Innovation Academy provided instructors for the two-day program that focused on product design, customer needs and communication.

On the first day, employees were divided into pairs to interview each other about the ideal wallet.

Project manager John Sandusky wanted coin storage he could access in 15 seconds. Manager David Sais’ idea was a drone wallet that could follow John around —charge on poles throughout the city — and duck down for easy access when he needs those coins.

The design prototypes were created with the same materials seen in an elementary school classroom: construction paper, stickers, tape, popsicle sticks, markers, sandpaper, clips and Legos.

Prototyping gets ideas out of your head and into the world, said instructor Nancy Lewis of UNM Innovation Academy. It’s not as much about making the precise prototype as following the process, she said.

The Idea Sprint was put on by Sandia’s Entrepreneur Exploration program, which seeks to inspire entrepreneurial efforts through webinars, workshops, technology showcases and trainings.

Manager Jackie Kerby Moore, who opened the event, said the goal of the program is to invigorate an entrepreneurial culture and inspire Sandia researchers either to enter the business world or develop the innovative mindset while at the Labs. In 2018, four employees left the Labs to start small businesses and one left to expand an existing business.

While some Sandia employees came to the Idea Sprint with ideas they hope to commercialize later, others came to learn more about solving problems.

“I’ve been interested in design and conceptualizing solutions to problems and this seemed like a great way to expand that skillset,” said mechanical engineer Dan Seegmiller.

Sandia business development specialist David Kistin said the Idea Sprint was planned to give Sandia employees exposure to tools that could reduce risk in the commercialization process.

Following the wallet exercise, participants were split into different groups to work on clear communication and pitches for different projects. Some groups chose to present ideas they’ve been working on at Sandia, while others focused on side projects.

The event ended with a friendly pitch competition. The winners, Keith Kozlowski, Marcos Sanchez and David Sais, pitched a children’s book that Keith has been working on outside of Sandia.

In two days, everyone improved product communication skills that could be transferred to multiple fields, both technical and creative, Keith said.

Both Keith and Diana said the takeaway was learning about Sandia’s entrepreneurial tools and resources.

“(The Idea Sprint) really gave people new ways to think about how to take their work to a larger audience, even if it’s not building a company,” Diana said. “I think as with most things in life, knowing about the resources is half the battle.”