Lauren Villaverde

SUPPLY CHAIN INNOVATOR: LAUREN VILLAVERDE

Global Operations Manager, Anvyl, Inc. (New York, NY)

STEM Advocate

M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2015

B.S., Industrial Engineering, Lehigh University, 2014

Lauren Villaverde grew up watching “Shark Tank” and “The Big Idea” on television. Her own aspirations were still developing at the time, but they quickly took shape once she enrolled in Lehigh’s M.Eng. in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) program.

Your bachelor’s degree is in Industrial Engineering. Why did you decide to continue your studies for a graduate degree in TE?

While I’d always been intrigued by entrepreneurship, I chose Industrial Engineering (IE) because I was interested in learning how to make processes more efficient and thought I could pursue a variety of career paths with this type of background. During my senior year, I took Entrepreneurship 101 with Professor Costa [Pasquale Costa, Professor of Practice in Integrated Business and Engineering], and it turned out to be one of my favorite classes. As graduation neared, I knew that I didn’t want to enter the workforce quite yet. I had more to learn.

Why did you choose Lehigh’s TE program in particular?

Professor Costa first recommended the TE program to me, and I’m so glad he did! I realized that the combination of a bachelor’s degree in IE and a master’s degree in TE could open a lot of doors. Around the same time, I learned of the successful Kickstarter campaign run by Lisa Glover [TE ’14, Founder of Architrep, LLC] for KitRex, a product she developed during her TE year. I really wanted to find out how to launch a product of my own, and hearing the KitRex story was the deciding factor for me. 

What was the best part of the TE program for you?

The best part of TE was learning how to find my own white space — an unsolved or undersolved problem to address — and discovering how to navigate the process of building a company to fit within that space. I started down various paths before finding the right one for me. I knew I’d identified my space once I heard about a spatial development gap in early childhood literature. And that was the start of Stackablz!

Entrepreneurship is like running to a finish line blindfolded: You have a sense of where the finish line is but can’t see one clear path to get there. During my TE year, I learned that you don’t always need to have everything perfectly mapped out before getting started.
Tell me about Stackablz.

Stackablz, the product I developed during my TE year, are educational toys designed to facilitate spatial skill development in young children. Spatial skills include the ability to think in a three-dimensional way and to understand how much space an object occupies in relation to other objects. This skill set, often overlooked in early education, is linked to later success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Stackablz started as 3-D puzzles and later evolved into sets of storybooks paired with 3-D puzzles.

Are there experiences you had or skills you developed in TE that have been particularly helpful?

I built a 3-D printer on my own! It was very cool to build it, have someone take a 3-D scan of me, and then print out an action figure of myself. In the process, I discovered how much easier it is to troubleshoot something you’ve created from the ground up. During TE, I also developed skills related to everything from networking and negotiating to creating cash flows and business models to prototyping and soldering. I don’t think I would have been exposed to some of these areas in such detail if I hadn’t pursued Lehigh’s TE program.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

Prior to entering the program, I had this idea that entrepreneurs always knew absolutely everything about their products before launch and exactly what their next move would be post launch. But then I learned about the concepts of bootstrapping and minimum viable products. It quickly became clear that entrepreneurs don’t always know what’s next…and that’s okay.

Did you engage with the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation?

I participated in the Baker Institute’s EUREKA! Venture Series competition, and I’m so thankful for that opportunity. It was my first time pitching Stackablz. I was nervous walking in with my early iteration prototypes — some with magnets held in place with tape! I certainly didn’t expect to win anything, but I was very happy when I did. It was exciting, not only because I was offered funding to continue work on my product but also because of the sense of validation I felt.

 

In addition, I was accepted into Baker’s LaunchBayC program, an immersive summer idea accelerator, which allowed me to continue working on my product after graduation. It gave me exposure to great resources — including prototyping space and mentorship — so that I could focus on product development full time.

 

Finally, I was selected through a competitive application process to present at TEDx LehighRiver. I worked very closely with Lisa Getzler [Executive Director, Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation] who mentored me as I created a talk titled “Across. Behind. Next To.” The goal of this talk was to spread awareness about the importance of early exposure to spatial skill development, which provides children with the foundation needed to succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields of study. It was a great experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow.

What did you do immediately after TE?

I embarked on a project called STEMpowered that I eventually hope will evolve into an LLC. The idea is that Stackablz will be the first product offered under the STEMpowered umbrella. The project is on hold right now as I am thinking through a potential pivot and trying to balance entrepreneurship with a full-time job.

Your first full-time position after TE was with Estée Lauder. Can you tell me a bit about that and about how TE prepared you for this position?

During my first few years at Estée Lauder, I managed new product launches from conception to shipment and, in that role, I leveraged many of the skills I learned in TE. I think most people in this type of position focus heavily on the execution of steps taken after the product has already been defined. The fact that I learned to think in terms of white space and early product development allowed me to grasp the full development lifecycle of the products I was managing. It was also very helpful to understand the process of building a bill of materials — basically a recipe of all the components tied to a product — which is a skill that I learned in one of my TE prototyping courses and used almost every day in my role at Estée Lauder.

Why did you decide to make the move to Anvyl after three years at Estée Lauder?

I joined the Anvyl team because I wanted to continue developing my supply chain and project management skills within a startup environment. As a technology startup in the supply chain space, Anvyl was the perfect fit!

Tell me about Anvyl.

Anvyl is a supply chain technology platform that provides visibility into the manufacturing process and streamlines relationships between reputable brands and world-class manufacturers. We automate interactions, negotiate contracts and schedules, track production and quality, and provide updates throughout the production process to ensure on-time delivery. The company was founded in 2017 and currently has fewer than 30 employees.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Anvyl?

I partner with our customers on new projects. Some customers are “Brands,” or clients who approach us wanting to use the platform and our services to source new packaging components.  Other customers include “Suppliers,” clients who access our platform to bid for the opportunity to develop new packaging components submitted by Brands. I talk with Brands on a daily basis — discussing projects they want to track on our platform, teaching Brand teams how to navigate the platform, and touching base with our team in China to answer any questions from Suppliers. In addition, I leverage Anvyl’s software and available data to identify risks, design tactical solutions, and optimize operations.

How did the TE program prepare you for what you’re doing now?

The TE program taught me how to quickly and resourcefully turn my ideas into tangible minimum viable products. I use this skill set every day to communicate complex issues in an easy-to-understand manner. And, of course, TE emphasized the importance of networking, which helped me in terms of pursuing jobs after graduation and benefits me continually in my current position.

Were you mentored by any Lehigh alumni?

Yes! I was mentored by Alita Friedman [B.S., Accounting, ’87, CEO of Alita’s Brand Bar], whom I met during my TE year. Alita is a hugely successful Lehigh alumna in the toy industry, and she mentored a group of us working in that space. She helped us get into the New York City Toy Fair, the largest event in the toy industry, and introduced us to key players. Alita also made time to answer our questions and help connect us to that next contact we needed to keep our ideas moving forward.

What about your long-term career goals?

Eventually, I’d like to start my own company in the early education space, tapping into all that I’ve learned through the TE program and my work experience to date.

Can you share one important takeaway from your TE year?

TE pushes you to try things that you may not think you’re ready for…which helps you learn and grow a lot faster. During my TE year, for example, I put off using SolidWorks, a CAD software program helpful in designing 3-D prototypes, because I thought the learning curve would be too steep. After a few weeks, I decided to give it a try and found out it wasn’t as hard as I thought. The quality of my prototypes improved dramatically…and I immediately wished I’d made the switch sooner. I now remind myself of that when I notice I’m putting something off because I think it’ll be too hard.

In your view, what has been — or will be — the return on your investment of time and money in terms of securing the TE degree?

My TE degree led to both of my first full-time jobs after graduation, positions well aligned with my professional interests and skill sets. And my Stackablz prototypes — created as part of my coursework! — have led to funding opportunities, access to industry leaders, and exposure in various publications, setting the stage for much to come. My ROI is at 100 percent right now…and will continue to grow once I start my own company.

 

April 2019