Friday, February 13, 2015
Maker Designs Sweet Sentiments
When Anne Lopez (A'96) founded Romeo Delivers, she was crafting a subscription service for kindness.
Romeo Delivers started in 2013 as a monthly service for men who wanted to show their partners they care in more thoughtful and creative ways.
In 2014, the company's scope broadened to offer products to men and women to cover special occasions as well as "just because." She's worked on placing products wholesale to local gift shops, including the CMU university store, and national retailers.
Moving forward, Lopez said her mission is to help people show they care.
"Life is short, make the people you care about smile," she said.
Lopez found her fine arts studies from CMU translated well into her entrepreneurial endeavors. One class, Concept Studio, specifically comes to mind. Its focus was on concepts rather than deliverables.
"Since then, in every design exercise, I first think, 'What is the problem I'm trying to solve?' And then I think about an appropriate medium for it," Lopez said.
Thanassis Rikakis, CMU vice provost for Design, Arts and Technology, celebrates Lopez's strides in the maker community. Rikakis oversees CMU's IDeATe network, which celebrates the Maker Movement with making facilities, concentrations and minors.
"New fabrication and communication technologies have democratized making and dissemination. They have facilitated the integration of diverse perspectives and have unleashed boundless creativity and innovation," Rikakis said. "As an alumna of Carnegie Mellon, Ms. Lopez is very familiar with the unique kind of inspiration that strikes when you're working with diverse minds and readily available tools to create and disseminate. Her company, Romeo Delivers, showcases the spirit of combining creativity with technology."
Lopez returns to CMU regularly. She has worked with Project Olympus, part of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), to mentor students starting companies and to provide pitch demonstrations for students learning how to work with angel investors.
"I have been impressed with Anne's passion and willingness to learn and adapt. She is an important part of our community. She has helped to connect the startup and maker communities to create more opportunities for everyone," said CIE Co-director Dave Mawhinney.
Lopez initially worked with Pittsburgh's TechShop to design and create product prototypes, such as Kiss Currency, laser-cut wooden tokens inscribed with "good for one free kiss." She also was part of AlphaLab Gear, a hardware startup accelerator, where she received office space, attended lectures and utilized mentors. She credits AlphaLab Gear and TechShop with creating a new wave of makers like her.
"The Maker Movement in Pittsburgh is training a whole new crop of makers in a city that has always been a center for manufacturing," she said.
In turn, AlphaLab Gear credits Lopez for inspiring a new program. After hearing how she interacted with businesses in the incubator, they started an artist-in-residence program.
"Anne had a different, refreshing perspective. But there was only one of her. We needed a way to replicate it for a broader look. Engineers might focus on the technical features, where Anne would focus on the benefits," said Ilana Diamond, managing director at AlphaLab Gear.
Les Gies, senior accounts manager at TechShop, thought Lopez's company was a great idea and is also a customer. He said working at the TechShop allowed Lopez to fine tune her products.
"Anne has become a maker — just like many of us have — through a burning idea to create," Gies said.
The experience at TechShop and AlphaLab Gear helped Lopez prototype quickly and balance that with her fine arts background with the technical and business perspective necessary to build a successful startup.
"Part of it is creative — figuring out what cool things you want to make — and part of it is figuring out what you can source quickly, is light enough to ship cheaply and can be produced quickly," she said.