Client Spotlight

Client Spotlight: Technology Exchange Lab

Guest Writer: Alex Audette

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I had the chance to ask Éadaoin Ilten and Brennan Lake of Technology Exchange Lab a few questions, and learned how they’re using forward-thinking strategies to improve lives around the world.

Introduce yourselves! What do you do?

Here at Technology Exchange Lab (TEL), we believe that the fight against poverty starts with satisfying basic human needs, such as clean water, and access to energy and healthcare. We help tackle these challenges by driving the adoption of innovative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions that improve livelihoods in developing communities across world. From hand washing stations in Sierra Leone, to solar lantern distribution initiatives in India, our programs are designed from the bottom-up, in order to meet the needs and aspirations of people living at the base of the pyramid.

What brings you to CIC?

TEL was founded in 2009 by two MIT Sloan alumni who met at a local networking event. Their shared vision of poverty alleviation was inspired by their collective experience at MIT of introducing technology-based solutions to improve lives around the world. As the organization grew from an idea into a reality, settling at the CIC was a logical step to tap into Cambridge’s academic and innovation ecosystem.

Share your accomplishments! Gloat, gloat, gloat!

Over the past 7 years, we’ve carefully curated an online database of over 600 solutions to challenges related to water and sanitation, energy access, agricultural productivity, health care, and more. Every day, people turn to TEL’s online platform to discover appropriate solutions to their unique development challenges. The platform has served as an initial touchpoint for our work with incredible community based organizations working on the front lines of international development across South Asia, Latin America and the African continent. Parallel to this, we’ve built institutional partnerships with the United Nations, USAID, Siemens Stiftung and several programs at MIT.

Anything exciting on the horizon?

In spring 2017, we’ll invite the general public and CIC members alike to the TEL World House exhibition. In partnership with MIT, we are hosting a free outdoor event to showcase of some of the most compelling solutions available in the TEL database, such as solar lanterns, clean cookstoves, water purifiers, health products, and much more. Visitors will be able to demo solutions, while also meeting the inventors, development practitioners and social entrepreneurs who put the solutions to action.  

What do you like about CIC? How does the environment here impact your company philosophy?

In addition to having an unbeatable location, One Broadway has offered us a solid home base for doing business globally. As a small organization, it’s nice to host our partners and clients in such a professional, and impressive setting. What has been of most value, however, are the connections we’ve made with other CIC members, from partner organizations to world class programmers who have been inspired by TEL to help us fulfill our mission.

International development, you say! Would you like to support my “Alexit” referendum and secede from the Commonwealth with me?  

You wouldn’t be setting a precedent, since Maine “Mainxeted” from Massachusetts in 1820. While Maine has its virtues – blueberries, Stephen King, Tom from your organic tube of toothpaste – I don’t think we’ll join you in Alexiting. Since seceding, Maine has consistently underperformed the Commonwealth, macroeconomically speaking. Consider Effy, the downeast fisherwoman of the 1820s, an early icon of unemployment. Despite years of prosperity in her early life, after Maine seceded she lobster job!

Bummer. Your loss. What should I name my new nation?

I would name it after the CIC workstations “Data Motel”. Because that name totally makes sense…

Should I drive on the right- or left-hand side?

Straight down the middle.

The country’s secret password?

Fidelio.

Client Spotlight: Design Museum Boston

By Jenny Von Flatern

In Boston there are countless circles and squares, Washington Street goes on forever, and the entrance of a building on Milk Street is on Devonshire Street. It’s hard to imagine anything in Boston was “designed.” The team at Design Museum Boston shows how design can affect most anything. CIC sat down with Sam Aquillano, their Executive Director, to learn a bit more about their work.

Tell us a little about your team.

Design Museum Boston is a nonprofit, nomadic museum focused on design, launched in 2009. We’re redefining what it means to be a museum in the 21st century — we’re online, nomadic, and accessible to all through a network of exhibitions, events, and content. Our mission: Bring the transformative power of design to everyone, everywhere to ensure a world full of creative problem solvers. Design is everywhere. So are we!

We believe design can change the world. Done well, it can elevate our quality of life, make businesses more competitive, and protect our environment. Design awareness, education, and expertise are more important now than ever before as design continues to impact communities, organizations, and markets around the world.

How did you get into of non-profit, nomadic museums?

I started my career in product design working at Bose Corporation and then teaching design at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Wentworth Institute of Technology. I was also the Boston Chapter Chair for the Industrial Designers Society of America. In all my work I was talking about design to other designers — but design is part of everything and no one was creating a broad public conversation about design nor promoting the power of creative problem solving.

Together with our founding team including my best friend, Derek Cascio, his girlfriend Jenna Casey, and my brother Steve Aquillano we started the museum with the intent of raising money, finding a space, and creating a traditional museum for design. But that was 2008/2009 — not the best time to create a new nonprofit museum. So we had to think differently and ultimately decided we didn’t need our own space — we could be a nomadic museum and pop-up all over the city. So instead of a single space, we turn the museum inside out and make the entire city the museum, and in the process we make it a more vibrant place to live, work, and play.

What was your biggest learning opportunity? What’s been your biggest milestone? What’s next?!

I came into the nonprofit sector as an entrepreneur, but basically knew nothing about running a nonprofit. But I believe in education and learning. Over 6 years I’ve learned a lot thanks to an amazing group of mentors and supporters. I think the biggest things I’ve learned are how to work with board members, how to monetize what we do, and how to run a nonprofit like a business. Next up: figure out how to scale to every major city in the U.S. We currently have branches in Boston, Portland OR, and San Francisco, but we have a lot to learn. I take a design thinking approach to everything, we try things, we iterate, we learn, and we optimize — over and over and over.

What brought you to CIC?

I came to CIC through my good friend, Stas Gayshan. I first met Stas through his work at Space With A Soul — a coworking space that was very friendly to budding nonprofits. The museum was growing back in 2011 and we needed a real place to work that wasn’t my living room. I met Stas, heard his vision for Space With A Soul and I was hooked. We worked there for a few years until the team outgrew our space. Between then and now we’ve bounced between a few spaces and never quite captured that same innovative spirit and community that we had when we worked in Stas’ space. Recently Stas gave me a tour of CIC Boston and I remember thinking, wow, this has all the love, community, and resources that a growing nonprofit like Design Museum Boston needs. I was hooked again!

What do you like about CIC and how do you think being in a space like ours impacts you?

I am so impressed with the CIC team’s ability to develop workspaces with a detailed approach that takes into account many different working styles. It’s clear to me that the CIC team cares deeply about the people that work here, and they’re constantly iterating and trying new things to constantly improve. The resources and spaces are top notch and I love the community elements. Being surrounded by other crazy entrepreneurs helps me feel like less of a crazy entrepreneur and more like a strategic entrepreneur.

Tell us a fun fact about yourselves!

When Derek and I first developed our vision for the museum — we were in a meeting at MassArt, where we had ordered pizza to eat while we brainstormed. We drew our vision for the museum on the back of the pizza box — and I still have it! I really need to frame it and hang it in the office — someday!