We recently got an opportunity to interact with Meghna Bhutoria, Founder and CEO of Makers Loft, a refreshingly different initiative promoting a culture of creativity, innovation, curiosity and a do-it-yourself attitude amongst children as well as adults. Read the full interview of Meghna below:
1. How would you describe Meghna Bhutoria?
Meghna Bhutoria is an independent Calcutta gal with a mind of her own.She has a Bollywood state of mind, which is living in a state of unfettered optimism and constantly evaluating themiddle class values that she was brought up with.
Meghna is strong-willed and a go-getter. She is naturally an introvert and reflective person. She is courageous and does not hesitate to challenge the norms.
Meghna likes to visit factories, local markets and cafes rather than touristy spots when she travels. She finds herself drawn to good design and architecture.
2. Kindly briefly describe your education and professional journey to our readers?
I was born and raised in Kolkata, graduated with a BSC in Resource Management at JD Birla. Started my career working for a couple of startups in the internet space, much against the wishes of my family, who preferred I continue in the tradition of women being home makers. My career got a boost when I joined ITC Limited, as Online PR Coordinator. This was the beginning of empowerment for me as woman, seeing men and women treated equally at work.
After a few years at ITC I relocated to Pune and then Bangalore and took up a job in Marketing & Communications with Cypress Semiconductor a company based out of California, USA. My job took me to US for several months a year, which was a big change for me personally and professionally. Cypress is a founder driven company with a very strong culture; I imbibed a lot of which having worked there for 5 years.
In search for the next career break I did an MBA at INSEAD France, which was in many ways a life changing experience. With students from 72 nationalities in your class, you tend to become more appreciative of diversity and a lot less judgmental. I was hired from campus at Syngenta, a Swiss multi-national into biotechnology and agricultural chemicals. I joined the Grow-in-Syngenta leadership development program, where I was to rotate every couple of years to a different part of the business and location. After 2 years at headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, I was sent on an international assignment to Minnesota, USA. My job involved working with corn farmers and ethanol plants in mid-west. It was a phenomenal experience something I had never imagine I’d get exposed to - exploring rural America I got to ride tractors, drive pickup truck, interact with farmers and their families, learn about hunting and muscle cars.
Between the stint I had to return to India, as my mother was rather unwell. I came back on a sabbatical for 2 months, but then decided to stay back and quit my job. After a few months my mother passed away and I decided to start on my own in Kolkata. I had moved back to India lock, stock and barrel with all my tools and equipment, since when you live abroad you have to do everything by hand. So I decided to setup a workshop to make things, something I really missed all these years just ‘managing’. At the same time a friend of mine told me about the maker movement and it just validated what I was feeling internally. There was no looking back! Some women like diamonds and gold, I like chunky metal that comes with gears and motors. I bought a bunch of high-end equipment like laser cutter, 3D printer, rented a large space in Ballygunge and got started setting up MakersLoft.
MakersLoft is Kolkata’s first ‘makerspace’ where Designers, Techies, Tinkerers, Hobbyists, Artists and Artisans come to create amazing products that they could not have done by themselves.A ‘makerspace’ is a combination of an enabling community and physical space where professionals, students and hobbyists get access to professional tools, learn how to use those tools, meet and collaborate with other talented individuals to make things that matter to them and their community. MakersLoft is the only ‘makerspace’ in India catering to children as well as adults.
3. Tell us about the Makerspace Movement and your vision for MakersLoft?
The maker movement is a grassroots renaissance in making and manufacturing. The vision is that more and more people create products instead of only consuming them, and moving people from being only consumers to creators is critical to our future. This shift from "mass production" to "mass customization" is only now possible, as the methods of digital fabrication —previously the exclusive domain of institutions—have become accessible.
MakersLoft is sowing the seeds of Do-It-Yourself culture starting in Eastern India. We want people to get back to the joy of making and hands-on creativity. For children, we hope to bring about a transformation in education, by institutionalizing learning-by-doing rather than by rote.
4. What are the different skills which one can acquire at Makers Loft?
We have quite a variety; here I’ll try to focus on skills that you can’t easily learn elsewhere.
• Wood working
• Prototyping &model making
• 3D Designing and 3D Printing for uses in architecture, medical, fashion, advertising, toy making, prototyping, miniature models etc.,
• Designing and packaging using Laser cutter for Architectural Models, Awards & Trophies, Fablabs Education, Medical Technology, Packaging Design, Promotional Items, Rubber Stamps, Sign & Displays, Signage, accessories for Smartphones and Laptops
• Natural Dyeing and Printing
• Do-It-Yourself skills using professional hand & power tools
5. Which activities do children enjoy the most at Makers Loft?
MakersLoft is like a candy store for kids, there is so much going around that is interesting for kids that sometime they have a difficulty to choose.
Lego is our all time popular hands-on activity for both boys and girls. Kids who never played with Lego before can be seen engrossed building for hours once they join MakersLoft Lego club.
Kids also love Creative Computing, where they learn how to code using Scratch software developed by MIT. 3D Printing generates a lot of interest, although younger children are limited by what they can 3D design and make themselves.
Besides all kids are fascinated by equipment that they don’t have access to yet like laser cutter machine, the power tools for woodworking.
6. Makerspace promotes lot of experimentation and collaboration around product innovation. Do you think process innovation is also accommodated in this movement?
Absolutely that’s what a makerspace is all about. Fail easy, fail cheap.
7. Would you like to mention any special products or projects which have emerged out of Makers Loft ?
Interestingly, two of the most innovative projects at MakersLoft have been made by memberswho are Belgium nationals:
• A drinking water system that uses sunlight to purify water made by Jean-Baptiste de Mevius
• A public spaceartifactthat enables deaf people to hear music by Adi Hollander
8. How do you maintain a work life balance? Is your family supportive of your venture or are they apprehensive?
There is not much of a work life balance for me at the moment, also there is not much else that I’d rather do. If I have a free moment my head tends to gravitate towards work. The challenge of running such an innovative business is very stimulating.But I definitely want to take more time out for physical fitness and wholesome living.
Having lived around the world for the last 10 years, my friends are all over the world; I don’t have as many friends in the city. I am an introvert, so I don’t hang out socially much either.
My family is here and it is great joy bonding with them all over again after so many years of living apart. They are immensely supportive of the venture, would not do it without them. My brother and sister are a part of MakersLoft infact as they truly believe in the vision.
9. Would you be raising institutional funding to grow your venture or would you rather grow organically at a steady pace?
We are open to different possibilities and are constantly evaluating opportunities.
10. Any word of advice for budding women entrepreneurs ?
This is the golden age of entrepreneurship for women! If its really your thing, dive right in and take advantage of the opportunities that exist. Connect with fellow women entrepreneurs, leverage women’s networks and initiatives. Network, network, network. Don’t feel shy to ask and reach out, guys do that all the time. As a woman entrepreneur you will probably get more people giving advise, as your male counterpart. Don’t listen to everyone. Don’t spend too much time thinking what’s not working, what you are doing wrong, focus on the positive and build on your strengths.
11. Are you Glad to be a Woman and why ?
Why not! Would a man be asked a similar question?
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