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Mindshare 2013 Inspires Budding Entrepreneurs

Mindshare 2013 Inspires Budding Entrepreneurs

Daniel Michalik MFA 04 FD is proof positive that a DIY attitude – plus a lot of determination and elbow grease – can result in breakthrough manufacturing methods.

Daniel Michalik MFA 04 FD is proof positive that a DIY attitude – plus a lot of determination and elbow grease – can result in breakthrough manufacturing methods. The Brooklyn-based designer is building a booming business by producing handmade furniture and home décor objects using a truly niche material: recycled cork from sustainably managed forests.

“I wanted the material’s potential to dictate the design process,” Michalik explained to students, alumni and members of the public attending last Saturday’s Entrepreneur Mindshare, an inspiring conference/networking event hosted each fall by RISD’s Career Center. “Once I knew the limitations of the cork, I was able to make smart choices.”

Those carefully calculated decisions have led Michalik to fashion highly appealing products – including floating toy boats, colorful door stoppers and screenprinted candelabra – that are both a hit with consumers and relatively easy to make in his own studio. “I started to realize that minimal designs are ideal because there aren’t many steps involved to make the product,” Michalik told the small but attentive audience. “I’m now able to crank out a [product] line at an extremely fast rate in a studio-based situation. And that’s a recipe for profit.”

In addition to learning about Michalik’s effective business strategy, Mindshare participants were eager to soak up advice and insights from the dozen other entrepreneurs and thought leaders who spoke during the full-day event. For instance, Giovanni Feroce, CEO of Rhode Island-based jewelry retailer Alex and Ani, pointed out that the key to advancement lies in remaining upbeat. Founded less than a decade ago, the young company – which manufactures most of its trendy bangles in the US – has grown rapidly since the recession began in 2008 and is on track to sell more than $200 million in merchandising by the end of the year.

“Never underestimate the power of positive thinking,” Feroce says. “If you don’t have confidence, you’ll never make it. Always have faith in your ideas.”

As co-founder of an 84,000-square-foot facility called New Lab, Scott Cohen spoke about his unique experiences running a start-up that’s breathing new life into the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The space now houses an “ecosystem” filled with innovators focused on design, prototyping and manufacturing. For example, robotics specialists are collaborating with artists to create sustainable (and beautiful) lighting projects. Another New Lab tenant has created a smokeless stove that charges batteries and electronic devices using its own heat.

“We’re fostering a vibrant maker culture,” notes Cohen. “People [involved in New Lab] are collaborating in ways they never have before. There’s a ripple effect that starts at our space and resonates far beyond our walls.”

Members of E’Ship, a new student organization at RISD that helps aspiring entrepreneurs find resources to support their own business ventures, were excited to sit it in on the day’s sessions. “I think it’s really interesting to see all the ways in which these RISD alums and business leaders have been able to apply their critical making skills,” notes Ryan Murphy 15 ID, a founding member of E’Ship. “It just goes to show that creative thinking is essential when it comes to running a business.”

–Abigail Crocker