Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Elena Corchero is award-winning designer specialised in smart materials, wearables, haptics and IoT. She is former MIT MLE Research Associate and Central Saint Martin MA Material Futures Alumni. Elena's concepts and products bring science closer to people while promoting local manufacture, environmental awareness and bridging gender gaps in STEM. She is creator of innovative brands LFLECT.COM - ZIPPYKIT.COM - ECOLORIUM.COM. As a public speaker and consultant Elena has worked with TED, MIT Technology Review, Julius Baer, BBC, EDF, Omnicom Media, Diageo, Ericsson, Unilever, London Olympics, RoomOne Labs and more.
What is the idea behind Lost Values and how did you come up with it?
LOST VALUES was born in London in 2008 as a personal project to promote smart consumerism. For nearly a decade, our passion has lead us to develop luxury and eco-friendly lifestyle products for those who truly care about the environment and our current social issues, without compromising on the desirability of style and innovation.
I came up with the idea of Lost Values after the recession hit in 2008. I wanted to believe that Lost Values would turn people into more conscious consumers, a movements which I think has taken off. Unfortunately, at the same time fast fashion and mass consumerism have also been on the rise.
When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?
As I said before, Lost Values started in 2008 as a creative lab. Now, it’s aimed more towards the gifting industry. I have a team that helps me with smart materials research as well as sales and marketing.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
Honestly, I did not know I was going to be a designer but I definitely knew I was the creative type: my mother is a tailor and my father used to be an engineer. However, he later became a lawyer so his dream was for me to become a lawyer as well. I went to law school first so my creative career started quite late. Since I decided design was what I wanted to pursue, I haven’t stopped and I will never stop. The more I get into it, the more I enjoy it. Maybe I’m so driven because of all the frustration I had during those law school years.
What was the biggest obstacle?
I think that, in my career, obstacles push me to become better and reinvent myself. I knew I had to get out of the Canary Islands, I knew I had to go to USA to get into the MIT… these may seem like obstacles but they don’t scare me. I think obstacles are necessary to succeed.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
Finding the right partners and investors is definitely the main challenge for any business. Planning cash flow in the tech business, given the fast-pace of the industry, can be really hard.
Also creating a product in a market that wasn't established yet was a challenge. When I started in the MIT Media Lab in 2004, wearables wasn’t a thing. Timing is everything. I was an early adopter and trying to come up with the product and then explaining your concept to people became an ordeal.
How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Personally, being female has not affected me negatively in my career. What’s more, it has helped me gain visibility and I have become and advocate for this. It has opened many doors for me and I’ve met wonderful women in my career because of my position. I am aware that it can seem quite hard but you got to grow thick skin and join the community.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
To be able to own two companies and still have them both running, for sure. Through my awards and talks, I feel rewarded and humbled to hopefully be contributing to inspire many women out there that are starting their own companies.
What are projects you are currently working on within your company?
With Lost Values, we want to release our first interiors product. We have jewellery, toys and fashion in the market already. I’m also planning to turn Lost Values into a marketplace so that other designers that share the same values can have a platform to sell their products and gain visibility.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and STEAM industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
As far as wearable tech is concerned, for me it’s obvious that as tech becomes smaller and more efficient and with the development in biofuels - such electronics powered by glucose, the more we are going to be seeing an enhancement in the form of prosthetics and implants.
As far as STEAM is concerned, we must make sure to keep our minds open to embrace biology. They go hand in hand. We should promote STEAM without leaving bio-tech out. It’s going to be crucial.
Is #WomenInTech a movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes. It’s shame we still need to protest for this in the 21st century but it’s a movement that is definitely necessary. I see it as a wake up call to highlight gender inequality and gap pay. Ironically, our technology advances quicker than our society.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Many times it’s ourselves who put ourselves down. We are our worst enemy. I have been very lucky and every women I’ve crossed paths with has been very supportive. You have to be confident in yourself when pitching, in meetings, etc. and don’t let outsiders get in your head.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and STEAM?
I find inspiration and role models in many areas, not necessarily in my own niche. I really look up to Kathryn Parsons, who promotes coding education, the unstoppable Eileen Burbidge and, of course, Sarah Wood, co-founder and CEO of Unruly, she has supported my work from day one, always encouraging me, testing my products and even involving me in her own innovative concepts such as the new Unruly HOME where they feature me in the 360 VR video as well as an influencer.
LinkedIn: Elena Corchero
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.