Our exclusive Interview with SOLS Founder and CEO Kegan Schouwenburg

Kegan is the founder and CEO of SOLS, a NYC startup redesigning the way you move through mass customized 3D printed footwear. She is also a leading voice in the 3D printing and mass customization industry. Her passion to bring nascent technologies to the consumer market is reflective in her years of experience in the industrial design and mass-manufacturing space. Before launching SOLS, she was the director of engineering and operations at Shapeways, where she helmed one of the world’s largest 3D printing factories. Prior to Shapeways, Kegan co-founded her first company, Design Glut, a company which sourced and managed production for more than 30 brands including national chains Urban Outfitters and Target.

Kegan has been recognized on Inc’s ‘30 Under 30”, Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ list for 2015 along with Business Insider’s ‘30 Most Important Women under 30 in Tech’, ‘20 Hottest Startups Founded by Women’ and ‘The Coolest People in New York City Tech’ lists. She is also a mentor at connected devices accelerator, TechStars. Kegan holds a B.S. in industrial design and manufacturing from the Pratt Institute located in Brooklyn, NY.

SOLS CEO and Founder Kegan Schouwenburg
SOLS CEO and Founder Kegan Schouwenburg

1) How did you come up with the idea of Sols? 
The idea came from a culmination of past and personal experiences. I was flat-footed as a child so I grew up wearing orthotics. I thought they were weird and clunky – the product itself as well as the process of being casted. Outside of the difficulties in finding shoes that they actually fit in, I felt extremely self-conscious and refused to wear them. I already wasn’t the most popular kid in school and didn’t need another reason to draw more attention to that. Fast forward a few years and I discovered my love of industrial design and a fascination with 3D printing. Combining these passions with my learned skills, I aimed to take orthotics out of the guilt-ridden shadows by introducing computer vision and 3D printing technology to the process, making them completely custom, beautifully crafted, and functional – and so, SOLS were born two years ago.

2) You use 3D printing for your products, are we going to see more of 3D printers making products for big companies? 
Absolutely. Right now, 3D printing is still seen as futuristic, a young technology that’s full potential for mass customization has yet to be realized. I can’t wait for the moment when 3D printing is the norm – a manufacturing technology that’s part of our lives and introduces a world where products are completely custom. By enabling a machine to build products across industries, on demand, 3D printing is truly ushering in a new era that is both economically sound and can cater to the desires that make everyone unique.

3) Your previous company, Shapeways, was a 3D printing company that let users make, buy and sell products. How far away are we from seeing everyone own a 3D printer? 

Shapeways showed me how much technology can be a catalyst for change. I brought this thinking to SOLS and it’s why I believe that we are part of something that can change the world. Even though there is still so much to learn and so much still undiscovered, the continuous and rapid advancements in today’s technology lead me to believe that consumer adoption of 3D printers will happen sooner than we think – and SOLS intends to be leading this movement.

4) What does it feel like to be listed in the Inc and Forbes 30 under 30? 

It’s amazing – and humbling – to be listed among women and men who are following their passions. These are the people I look up to. And while the recognition is great, it’s not what keeps me motivated day after day. What keeps me motivated is looking around the office and seeing people working towards a shared vision and seeing how much they are putting in to make that vision a reality.

5) What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to start a business? 

Hiring the right people is the hardest thing to do and it’s also the key to success. There’s so much talk about creating a desirable company culture that sometimes it’s brushed off simply as a “nice-to-have” but I do not see it that way. Your job as a CEO and founder is to bring people into the fold that are going to have a positive impact and that you actually want to work with and learn from. A good rule of thumb that I keep in mind is you should not hire anyone that you wouldn’t want to grab a beer with. I want my colleagues to be my friends as well as challenge me. You should never stop learning from those around you. Be present and involved, even at the CEO level.

We would like to thank Kegan for speaking with us.

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