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Nadworny: Creative Complaining

One of the more common pieces of advice given to innovators and inventors is to “start with what you know.” But in practical terms, this often translates into “what irritates you the most.” And focusing on what you don’t like and would like to make better is often a good starting point, because searching for a solution can have a profound impact.

Perhaps the most famous example of Vermont innovation is the invention of the JogBra. Hinda Miller, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith were tired of running in clothing that chafed and literally irritated, so they sewed two jock straps together and created the sports bra industry. The Smithsonian has one of the originals in its museums.

But I think Vermonters face an unusual challenge when it comes to innovation and invention. People in cities seem to be irritated by lots of things - and with good reason. Most people I know say they’re relatively happy with the way things are in Vermont, which is why most of us choose to live here. Some Vermonters seem to be irritated by other Vermonters, but I’m not sure we can innovate our way out of that one.

Still, even though Vermont is a great place to raise kids, parents have lots of complaints. Maybe it’s lack of sleep. But it’s leading to some interesting new businesses- and I’m seeing a lot of innovation that deals with children.

Notabli, for example, is a mobile app that solves the problem of all of those baby and kids pictures in your Facebook stream. Let’s face it, most parents think their kids are exceptionally beautiful and talented, but that’s a belief not shared by everyone. So the founders of Notabli created an app that lets you to create a private social network, comprised of say, grandparents, relatives and really close friends. That way parents can still take and post copious amounts of adorable baby pictures but most of us won’t have to scroll through them.

Another new business is Bitybean – inspired by the fact that little kids quickly get tired of walking, and want parents to carry them. But there weren’t many options in between infant carriers and toddler carriers. The inventor of Bitybean used his knowledge of body armor technology to create an ultra-light weight child carrier that essentially supports your kid as if they were piggy backing on your back. I wish I’d had had one when my kids were small.

The founders Mamava, on the other hand, have a solution for all those frustrated new Moms who travel on business. They’ve created a Lactation Station to provide nursing mothers with nice, private places to pump milk when they travel. They’ve just installed the first one in the Burlington airport.

So instead of simply complaining about the things that irritate us, we could try a little creative problem solving. Who knows, it might just result in the next great Vermont business.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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