Novalia Founder & Creative Scientist
I pretty much totally failed at High School and subsequently travelled though Asia and Australia for nearly four years. I shepherded sheep on a farm in Australia, picked various fruits and vegetables, stacked boxes in a warehouse, spent a day as film extra in Singapore and made cocktails in a bar in Hong Kong for a few months to get by. At 24 I went to University and got myself a first class honours degree in electronics despite that lack of high school qualifications, I was very fortunate to follow this with a PhD in physics from Cambridge University. From University I joined a new startup the span out of the Physics department by a professor that was exploring how to print electronic components such as transistors from plastic. Four years later I left to start my own venture, inspired by print as a process to manufacture products with another layer of magic. For over a decade I have been developing the technology to add interactivity and connectivity to everyday objects and to my delight a merry team has grown and joined me on this mission.
I’m a creative scientist, I have a first degree in electronics and a PhD in Physics, but what I enjoy the most is working with what and who is around me to combine our skills and knowledge to creatively express ideas and develop products that are impactful in some way to other peoples lives. I am passionately myself, love adventure and quite addicted to disappearing into the wilderness and sleeping on top of a mountain or deep in the forest when its twenty below despite being terrified every time!
I joined a startup originally as I have a sense of adventure and wanted to travel into the unknown, to shine light on things that have never been done before. I just simply asked a professor at a dinner one day if I could join one of his businesses, Ive been on that adventure ever since.
My goal has been to add the extra to ordinary, to add a sense of magic in the form of interactivity and connectivity to everyday objects. For years this has met with resistance and the claim that a product with technology that does not look expensive has no perceived value, but magic comes from the unexpected. The trend I see now is that this new generation expect almost any object to be interactive in some way, two year olds to do the ‘pinch and zoom’ on a magazine page, I believe that we are about to witness the disappearance of technology into almost everything around us.
Over the last decade the two biggest changes in human to computer interface have been touch and voice. We are adding touch to everyday objects. However, with the addition of smart voice devices to what will be nearly every home in the USA in the next few years also brings with it a Bluetooth access point connected directly the cloud accessing AI, content and data.
We see the addition of the hub as a huge opportunity for us to use our printed touch technology and passion for magical experiences to connect ordinary looking objects to the digital world.
The inspiration for the business idea was to use the most pervasive manufacturing process (print) to add interactive to objects on which print could be applied. Print is also the most pervasive user interface. Combining these two with other technologies that have emerged along the way has constantly inspired and updated the vision.
What we are focused on now is bringing out a range a of smart toys and smart home products created using our platform. These will be both our own products and created with partners who also have a large presence in each market we are addressing.
I feel like the most difficult times are when you don’t know how you can move on over a hurdle and onto the next step, where you feel that you are not an expert at what you need to do and feel totally out of your depth. What I have realised though is many of the greatest things ever achieved where by first timers, people without the skills or training that would otherwise have told them not to even attempt what they are trying to do. Every pioneer is the first to tread in places no one has stood and do the things no one knows how to do, I use this thought to inspire me continue doing what I do.
I want to create products that do not have an ego, product experiences that are magical, with technology that is invisible. I want the experience to be about the person using it and not about what it says about the person who created it. I also want to create products and experiences that are not just about removing friction from someones journey, products that sometimes slow a person down and help them connect with a moment, good friction in a product experience can make a moment meaningful, memorable and mindful.
I think I am the best at being me, and I try to focus on that.
My business aspirations are to create a technology platform and design tools that can democratise design and manufacture, to enable anyone anywhere to design a product with our tools that can be manufactured anywhere in the world. My personal goal is to live on the top of a mountain wilderness and spend time dreaming of new ideas and immersing myself in nature (I presently live halfway up the mountain, my goal is to get to the top!)
There have been many challenging moments, but some of the biggest have been to just get off the couch and go outside my front door. Anything beyond that becomes easy.
My favourite people and role models are the people around me in my life, friends and family. My children and being part of their journey, my sister and seeing everything she does and create for others via storytelling and my niece, seeing her commitment and journey in the world of music.
I love to travel. It is hard to pick a favourite. So long as I am in a wilderness with my backpack and my hammock then I am happy. I like to sleep as high up a mountain as I dare, ideally on top of the mountain, and to wake up to a beautiful sunrise and literally feel on top of the world.
Mostly my camping gear, I’ve become a little obsessed with ultralight hammock and backpacking gear to let me sleep out in the wilderness at -20c.
Did I mention camping? Also, photography, I love to take night time photos that look like daytime. And the geekiest part of me is dipping its toe into ham radio, I might even learn morse code!
Goal of the Day: Complete and do one thing on my list well.
Thought of the Day: Do less, achieve more.
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
I live just outside Woodstock New York. This is a magical place with an art community history of 100 years, many of the people here are musicians, artists and film makers. I love that at the grocery store checkout I can have an existential spiritual conversation with the person packing the bags. I also love that I’m a short bus ride to New York City and and get to be there each week too.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
I do love scrambled tofu and tempeh for breakfast. My favourite restaurant here in Woodstock is the Garden Cafe.
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – Thinking about waking up
10:00 AM – Trying to complete the most basic things on my to do list whilst constantly having to be on the phone to various colleagues.
12:00 PM – Favorite Lunch spot/meal?
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
Breakfast tea to start the day and then an endless supply of hot water throughout the day. I hit peak caffeine last year and have to restrict myself to hot water only.
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
Twitter, to browse and retweet nice things people say about me lol
What should everyone try at least once?
Being alone in the wilderness.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
In my mind and thoughts.
What Else to Know?
I have given a lot of talks, typically a keynote somewhere once a month and I have been very fortunate to speak at TED twice.