Building on our conversation series, “The Science of Disruption”, we got together with Ann Makosinski, inventor of the “hollow flashlight”, which is powered solely on the warmth of the user’s hand. She is known affectionately as, the “flashlight girl.” Landing her on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and atop the podium at the Google Science Fair, Ann’s tinkering in electronics and general curiosity with finding creative new ways science can make the world better, is simply inspirational. A thought leader and fledgling entrepreneur, Ann leverages social media and film, to share and inspire on a global scale. When it comes to making change and leading innovation, for Ann, it’s done “not just by talking about it, but by actually doing it.”
We are thrilled to share her accomplished story as a reminder of what can result from a willingness to do things differently than they have been done before and why the resilience to continue amidst setbacks pays off.
How would you describe yourself?
Eclectic, a dreamer, unusual at times, kinda weird. I’m a dreamer, I dream really big. I like social media, film, and I like taking things apart. When I compare my bucket list to my friends, it seems really far out there and a little crazy.
Where has most of your innovating took place?
In my house, mostly. I started really young with small and silly stuff. My parents didn’t give me a lot of toys, so I just sort of made my own stuff. I just started in my house, you don’t really need fancy equipment to start coming up with new ideas. To be innovative you can take advantage of the things you have around you.
You started tinkering with electronics at an early age. How has that brought you to where you are now?
Starting younger taught me that being curious about my surrounding leads to innovation. I also started participating in science fairs in 6th grade and my flashlight idea started there, it wasn’t some fancy scheme to get everyone to hear about it or from the idea that it would save people. People took interest in it, much more than I expected.
Social media and a film are powerful tools, how have these mediums helped you?
My Dad has always been really interested in film and he used to film me a lot, so when I’m in front of the camera it doesn’t really phase me. Through these mediums, I am able share my ideas to a large audience.
You are seeking patents for your flashlight design, can you share more about that with us?
I have some companies and lawyers helping with that. In correspondence with them, I have learned what a long and complicated process it is. There are a lot of legal issues and it can be quite pricey, so you have to be careful because if you don’t patent in time others can snatch up the idea even if you have public credit for it. It is a tricky process and can be daunting with people who haven’t any experience with it. It’s a learning journey!
From your home lab, you've managed to produce big results, how have scientists and innovators reacted?
They’ve been really nice and supportive. I went to ISEF and the Google Science Fair and I was honored that the judges were interested in my project. Their interest has really inspired me to keep going. On the awards night, one of the judges gave me a business card. It was the first one I ever got. I keep it around, its really symbolic to me. I was so surprised at how excited everyone was about my project.
How were you able to 'hack' into the sophisticated field of electronics without formal training and at such a young age compared to the rest?
What helped me is that I consistently spent time on it everyday. When I was really young, I went to work with my dad who was a lab manager in a university and I worked on some really basic circuit boards and learned to solder. With my mom, I played primary games, so spending a tiny little bit of time on things you are interested in, daily, is a great start. Even if something doesn’t work out and you feel stuck, keep pushing on. You can take a break and come back to it, but definitely push on. It is also good to have someone in the field you are working in to guide you and help you. If you keep working on what you are interested in, things will happen.
Did you connect to any communities online for support?
The internet is a great resource. I use it all the time to find out how something works. I didn’t really connect over forums, but mostly just used wikipedia and things like that. I actually read a lot of text books, but the internet is great!
What wise words do you have for others who are eager to take an unconventional path?
If you want to do the unconventional, you have to be unconventional. When I was really really young, I called myself a “differentist”, yes I made a word up to describe myself! And I told myself I could do everything differently and back it up when questioned. Its important to go after whatever you are dreaming of or thinking of and be able to support your ideas and defend them. You have to keep on going, be realistic, but keep going. Don’t be afraid of people judging you because at the end of the day they are more worried about how they are coming across, and they are not actually judging as much as you think.
What has helped you excel as a public figure?
Being in front of the camera from early on has helped a lot. Also watching lots of Youtube! A lot of people post videos and just talk and a lot of people watch because of their personality. I think its important to not sound like you are reading from a book and to let your personality shine through. If there is personality behind your story and you have fun with it, people will listen.
Moving into 2015, Ann plans to continue finding new ways of improving the world and to bring her “hollow flashlight” to market. Despite not knowing exactly what the future holds, she is confident that whatever unfolds, she will make the most of it and encourages others to do the same