My research on wearable technology took me to the AFFOA website and that’s when I came across the AFEP program!

My excitement was however short-lived when I realized that the application deadline was in TWO days.

I didn’t have recommendations and since it was the weekend, I didn’t expect to get them in time to complete the application in two days. Disappointed, I stopped the application, prayed about it and then tried to find possible ways I could work around getting recommendations in time for the deadline. Looking back, I should have just emailed the program coordinators and asked what my options were.[smh]

Anyways….two days later, I got this email.

Can I get a halleluuuujah praise break!

Following that email, the following events took place:

  • Got recommendations within a week from two of my amazing mentors from Swarthmore
  • Spoke with my Swarthmore SwatTank mentor Sabrina Moyle for advice
  • Re-assembled our YenAra backpack team together
  • Submitted the application
  • Our team became finalists
  • I flew to Boston for the interview with my team
  • We got accepted into the program, had an article written by MIT News where a our team was featured prominently (whoop whoop!).
  • And now here I am, looking back on these past months; in awe of how time has flown!

The yearlong Advanced Fabrics Entrepreneurship Program (AFEP) is a program in partnership with the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America(AFFOA) and MIT Venture Mentor Services(VMS). AFEP leverages AFFOA’s wide network and advanced prototyping resources and the MIT extensive network of more than 112 organizations. It’s aim is “to help early-stage entrepreneurs get commercial ventures off the ground.”

Hi, that’s me.

Early-stage entrepreneur 🙂

The program includes workshops, lectures, networking events, one-on-one mentoring, and other activities on and around the MIT campus. Our first in-person workshop was on March 29 at the AFFOA headquarters in Boston. I stepped into the headquarters, immediately reminded of futuristic scenes from Wakanda set. If you haven’t watched Black Panther yet…just… shame.

The workshop kicked off with a session led by Yoel Fink, the CEO and founder of AFFOA. He talked about how AFFOA started and described the concept of moving past the mindset of thinking about fabrics as goods to thinking about fabrics as tools that can offer and provide services.

We also had the opportunity to tour the AFFOA facility! The amount of exposure I got into the world of wearable technology and smart fabrics within just a few hours blew my mind. From hats with integrated earphones that gave light guided tours when activated by light sensor technology to LED light up leggings, sound emitting underwater fish tanks…

Example of some of the wearable technology from AFFOA. This was their Fabric LiFi-enabled baseball caps

I couldn’t help but think about how expansive technological applications to fabric were and it also made me think about the opportunity of African print fabrics and the potential of re-imagining our fabrics as wearable technology tools.

Our first break out session was based on the business model canvas and we focused primarily on our business value proposition and customer segments.

Business Model Canvas

Within the past few weeks, in addition to the business model canvas and having a more nuanced understanding of a value proposition, one of the most important things that I initially took for granted was the value of customer discovery.

TALKING TO MULTIPLE MEMBERS OF YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE and trying to identify their biggest pain points will inform the growth of your product. It’s easy to talk to 10 people and then tell yourself that you have gathered enough insights, but I’m learning that more and more interviews can tremendously shape customer insights and the creation of a service.

Our team has interviewed sixty people within the past months and our value proposition has evolved. In the next couple of months, I’m excited to begin prototyping and testing out some of our ideas.

How often do you USE a backpack? What’s your biggest pain point with your current backpack? If your backpack could speak to you, what would you want it to say?

That’s probably going to be the trend of my conversations in the next couple of weeks, so bear with me. Comment with your answers to the questions below! I’ll aim to share lessons and reflections as I learn throughout this yearlong program, so stay tuned!



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