Founding Charlottesville: CBIC Award Recipient KiraKira 3-D Printing Company

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- The Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, or CBIC, held its 18th annual awards gala, and KiraKira 3-D Printing Academy won CBIC Innovator of the Year.

The co-founder and CDO of the local creative company talks about how they're bringing the bling to Charlottesville.

KiraKira stands for bling-bling in Japanese.

"Suz and I both met while we were living in Okinawa, Japan, so it seemed appropriate that our new business name would carry forward some of the inference and personality of where we first met," said Malena Southworth, the co-founder and creative director of KiraKira.

Suz Somersall and Southworth work together at Suz Somersall Jewelry, where a simple intern assignment turned into something much bigger, a revolutionary project that earned plenty of praise from CBIC.

CBIC Executive Director Tracey Greene said, "So KiraKira stood out to the judges and was selected as this year's recipient of the award because we believe that STEM education is critically important to an underserved population in the science and technology space; which is women."

It's not always easy to get women interested in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

Southworth said, "We had taken on these amazing interns from UVA and CHS and they were all interested in jewelry design, but they had zero interest in engineering. And the reason that engineering had become important to us was that in an effort to cut cost we started 3-D printing our prototypes."

So, they signed the interns up for an engineering class, and within a week, all of the interns had quit the class.

"So, we took the classes ourselves, and we very quickly found out that they were really really boring. They were teaching things like how to design wrenches and auto parts and wind turbines and just items that were not inspiring or engaging for our girls,” she said.

Somersall and Southworth decided that the best way to get women interested in STEM is to apply STEM principals to things many women are interested in.

They started an online course to teach women to design and print 3-D jewelry. It's been a huge success.

Greene said, "Getting women into technology is critically important for the nation and the health of the nation's technology sector. So with KiraKira, them being able to inspire children through the creation through jewelry gives them skills sets that they will be able to extrapolate later in life."

"Giving girls this opportunity to come in contact with engineering at such an early age could really change their trajectory for later on in life and change these statistics that have been in play for so long," added Southworth.

Anyone can give it a try, and you don't need to own your own 3-D printer. You can sign up for courses online and download the free software to get started.

CBIC holds events on a monthly basis for anyone interested in networking and meeting leaders and innovators in the technology community in Charlottesville.

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