Innovation exchange program yields a trip to Santo Domingo.
This past summer was a noteworthy one for the Dominican Republic.
One of its own, Vladimir Guerrero, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. A few people from the small island nation even traveled from the island to witness the induction first hand.
As Guerrero was giving his induction speech, I was headed to Santo Domingo for my first trip to the island – having been chosen to complete a project for the Young Leaders of America Initiative (YLAI). I collaborated with my Dominican friend, Emil Rodriguez and Eric Gorman, owner/designer at Wily LLC in Charlotte, to run an innovation boot camp for Dominican college students.
The YLAI is a U.S. State Department initiative to help grow relationships between firms in America and Central and South America. Funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, it sponsors 250 young leaders from outside the States to spend five weeks in the U.S. each fall.
In 2016, Enventys Partners was fortunate to host YLAI fellow, Rodriguez, whose firm, Xolutronic, is an electrical product development company based in Santo Domingo. The YLAI program also provides funding for U.S. hosts to do a 10-14 day “reverse exchange” to share their expertise in the fellow’s home country, so when the call for applications came up this spring, I was excited to submit a proposal.
Getting extra help
Because Emil and I are both passionate about sharing our product development experience, we built our application around hosting a product development boot camp in his hometown. In mid-June, we received approval to hold our boot camp at the end of July.
I was excited by the news – and overwhelmed. I had just four weeks to pull together materials for the boot camp, get my travel plans sorted out, and make sure things would be covered at work and at home.
Emil and I collaborated nearly daily to make sure we had engaging content for the boot camp and that we had the logistics worked out. He found us a room at the INTEC University in Santo Domingo, set up a website and created a flyer to send out to potential participants. In the meantime, I worked on creating content for the program.
Although Emil and I understood the industrial design and engineering aspects of product development, we wanted to bring in a design guru to help teach strategy. I called my designer friend at Wily and pitched him the idea. We had met a few times at local design events, but hadn’t found a project to work on together, so it was a bit of a shot in the dark. Fortunately, he was excited about the program and agreed to help.
By mid-July, we were ready. In the few weeks that sign-ups were open, we had 25 students register for the class. We decided we would offer the following challenge to the students:
Design a way to make it easier to grow plants indoors.
(As a plant lover, this was strongly influenced by my own tastes.)
Emil ordered a bunch of supplies; Eric and I filled our checked luggage with electronics, sensors, 3D printer filament and our bathing suits. The logistics were settled, but getting there would prove not so straightforward.
Sudden hurdle overcome
In the first hour of my journey, I thought it may be over entirely. When I arrived at the gate, my connecting flight to Santo Domingo was cancelled, and the only way to get to the D.R. that day was to fly to Punta Cana instead. Fortunately, Punta Cana is a relatively easy two-hour drive from Santo Domingo. Emil dutifully agreed to drive the extra hours to pick me up there. The day was saved.
After a delicious lunch of shrimp on the beach, we headed back to the city where we did some factory tours.
We also visited the Drone Innovation Center (Centro de Innovacion de Drones), and an augmented reality class. We toured Creative Lighting Solutions, an injection molding facility that manufactures lighting products for the automotive industry.
It was a long day. After many hours stuck in traffic and reading billboards for Brugal, Maluma, Popular, and other brands I had never heard of I was ready for some rest.
Emil got us some burgers and Presidente beers served “vestida de novia” style (frosty and with a dress made of napkins) and it was time for bed.
Touring and planning
The next day we prepared for the boot camp, but not before a quick hit of tourism. Emil took me to the colonial zone, home to the city’s old fortress and buildings. We toured a few museums and boned up on some history of the D.R.
Then it was off to the U.S. Embassy. The 2018 YLAI fellows were having a kickoff meeting for their impending trips, and Emil and I offered our insights about the experience and American culture.
On the way to dinner we stopped at Pyhex co-working space where we met founder, Rudy Ganna and saw a number of Dominican Startups hard at work. Finally, we went stopped at the Xolutronic office where I got to see Emil’s office and meet his team that I had, up to that point, only worked with virtually.
As night fell over the city, the workday was done and I joined some of the guys outside and we shared a few jumbo bottles of Presidente. They told me about Dominican culture, food, and of course mamajuana (rum aged in spices and wood chips).
Just days before I knew practically nothing about the D.R. Now I had quickly seen how its people are so industrious, innovative and kind. I was chomping at the bit to get started with our boot camp – but first, we had to pick up Eric in Punta Cana and get a bit more R & R.
Tune in next month for Part II!