Founder Friday

Meet Sara Chipps of Jewelbots

Welcome to Founder Friday, where we’ll learn a little about the people behind some of the companies doing their thing at Highway1. Today’s founder is Sara Chipps of Jewelbots, now a Highway1 alum.

What’s your product called, and what does it do?

Jewelbots are friendship bracelets for the iPhone era. They’re open source friendship bracelets that girls can program to do things like communicate in class, show who their friend groups are, talk to their Instagram, let them know when their parents are on their way to pick them up or when they have a text message, even control a drone — anything they want.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Previous to Jewelbots, I was CTO of a company called Flatiron School in New York, a school for adults who want to learn how to code. Before that, I started a nonprofit in 2010 called Girl Develop It, which teaches low-cost software development classes geared towards women. We’re in 45 cities and we’ve taught 17,000 women through in-person classes so far.

Where did the idea for this business come from?

I was really inspired by platforms like Minecraft and Neopets and Myspace, things that prompted kids to teach themselves how to code in order to make them better, that they loved enough to learn how to build fairly complex modifications for them. That’s what got us excited about building Jewelbots. I worked with a friend who was a student at ITT to build a prototype to show to the Highway1 folks.

How did you find out about Highway1?

I’ve known Brady for a long time; I met him when he was at O’Reilly doing a conference in New York called Fluent. We were comparing all the hardware incubators, and we chose Highway1 based on the companies that came out of the program. I reached out to Brady to let him know what we were up to, and when I came to San Francisco for another reason, I stopped by Highway1 to show him what we were up to.

What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far?

I think just how many facets there are to hardware development, the fact that we needed to hire a packaging designer and different things like that; we never imagined how many aspects there were.

Can you talk about what the focus of your founding team was, and how you met the challenges (if any) of branching out beyond your personal experience?

Our team had a lot of experience in software and very little in hardware, so our focus was to learn as much as we could about the process of building and designing hardware, which I really think we got out of the program; it was a great experience.

What are your goals now that you’ve graduated?

Right now our main goal is focusing on manufacturing and shipping our product to customers; we’re pretty heads-down on that. We’ve also started a friends-and-family fundraising campaign on Quire.

Do you have any advice for people looking to get started in hardware?

I’d advise anyone that has a hardware company to do Highway1 or a similar hardware accelerator full of people that have experience building products over a long period of time. I think it’s really hard to learn about that by reading books; you need to surround yourself with great people who’ve done it before.

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