High-Fashion Figure Rebecca Minkoff Inspires Women in STEM at Intel’s Design Ideation Camp

Rebecca Minkoff and students

If you were thinking of guest speakers to address an audience of engineering students, Rebecca Minkoff, a designer of high-end accessories, jewelry, and apparel, might not come immediately to mind. But in late September, when Intel cosponsored Design Ideation Camp at Tandon aimed at encouraging young women to enter STEM fields and explore entrepreneurship, Minkoff’s talk was among the highlights of the day.

Danish entrepreneur Henrik Scheel (who had himself launched two start-up companies while still a student) served as moderator of the event, which was held in Tandon’s new MakerSpace. Handing out colorful pads of Post-It notes, he encouraged attendees to break into teams and “painstorm” — think of problems or issues they’ve experienced in their own lives and try to come up with practical solutions. Each team, he advised, should include at least one “hacker” who would be in charge of the tech aspects of the project, one “hustler” who would be in charge of attracting investors and customers, and one “artist” who would concern herself with the design aspects and user experience.

After a crash course in lean start-up methodology, which stresses rapid prototyping and intensive product testing, the young women got to work. They dreamt up solutions for everything from how to prevent pain from high-heeled shoes to the lack of a reliable and private forum in which young girls being raised by single dads could get answers to questions they may be embarrassed to ask.

Rebecca and Uri Minkoff

Rebecca and Uri Minkoff

It was a heady experience for many, including several first-year students who had never before participated in such an exercise or conceived of themselves as entrepreneurs. The atmosphere was further electrified when Minkoff and her brother, Uri, arrived to discuss how technologists and engineers were vital to the world of fashion and design. “Being in STEM is the new Gold Rush,” Rebecca Minkoff asserted. “For women, this is an exciting time to be a part of the conversation.” Uri Minkoff, the CEO and co-founder of the company, agreed, explaining, “When women can say, ‘This is what I need. This is what my friends need. Let me create the technology myself,’ it’s a far more creative and intuitive process.”

Among the other speakers were Beverly Bond, the CEO and founder of the nonprofit group Black Girls Rock!; Sara Austin, an editor at Cosmopolitan; Mark Crawford of Intel Capital’s Strategic Transaction Group; and Nilofer Vahora, the VP of Licensing and Product Innovation at Rebecca Minkoff.

Add in the possibility of winning one of several Intel-based tablets, an awe-inspiring movie about how Intel technology is being used in the fashion industry, and the chance to pitch ideas to an expert panel, and it was a one-of-a-kind day for Tandon’s female students and other guests.

One attendee, Jessica Joseph, a computer engineering major, summed it up, saying, “It’s amazing to have women come together to share ideas and experiences and at the same time to get a holistic view of the design process and entrepreneurship.”