How SAI and eLab Complement Each Other

Val Mack (’17), former 2015 TakeNote general manager, can now be found in eHub, acting as Founder and CEO of her startup, Dimitri. Mack, along with her team of three other Cornell students, is leveraging 3D printing technology to bring a cost-effective product to the market, customized sneakers for service workers.

From a young age, Mack had a passion for building things, reinforced by her internship as a watchmaker’s apprentice, her first real exposure to constructing objects. After hearing about 3D printing years ago, she became interested in exploring the huge lack of investment in 3D printing. Mack and her four-person team, Khalil Hajji (Systems Engineering ’17), Mutahir Kazmi (Computer Science ’17), and Jingyang Liu Leo (Architecture ’18), met in an entrepreneurship class they took together last fall. United by their shared interest in 3D printing and a desire to make it more accessible to everyone, they decided to apply to eLab together.

Mack says that at the time, “We knew how cool this technology was, we knew how much potential it had, we knew it could be revolutionary, so how did we get it there? We had to come up with an example of something that is really useful, that benefits from being 3D printed, and that is easy enough for people to make and use themselves - we decided on shoes”.

Dimitri plans to address the standardization of service shoes in which people with foot problems don’t receive the comfort and support they need throughout the day by making personalized shoes to relieve the pain of workers and allow them to be more productive at work.

Mack says, “The huge advantage to us is that we are bringing a product to the market that really hasn’t existed before because it hasn’t been cost effective and with 3D printing, customization comes at no additional cost, which enables us to do this on a larger scale”.

The team began working on this idea on February and has created their first alpha prototype, or proof of concept that they actually can customize shoes using a 3D printer. More recently, the team completed its first round of customer discovery in which they pitched their idea to service workers throughout the Ithaca community in various hotels, labs and retail stores to gain a deeper understanding of how to solve this issue. Currently, Dimitri is working on a pilot test with a manufacturing company which is designing the insoles that will go into the customized shoes. Once the shoes are made, Mack plans to give them out to potential customers to try for at least one week. The team has already established a relationship with Gimme! Coffee, whose baristas and roasting facility employees will be the first to pilot test the shoes.

In just a few months, the Dimitri team has produced astonishing advancements for their business. Following graduation, Mack hopes to pursue her “Plan A”, to continue running her startup. Most notably, Mack and her teammate’s love for entrepreneurship is palpable, as she says that they consider themselves “full time entrepreneurs, part time students”.

Mack credits Student Agencies for providing her with the first step into the world of entrepreneurship. Mack asserts, “Student Agencies was a confidence booster which taught me a lot about myself and my own management style, so I now have a better idea of how to navigate certain situations, from something as small as group projects in class to creating my own business”.

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