Startup Q&A - VariMold's Hardware Assists Architects with Complex Designs
Boston has a reputation for being a big college city, and many of the schools have their own student-startup accelerators. These are ideal programs for those who are looking to take the plunge and become entrepreneurs themselves. Accelerate, which is at Wentworth Innovation + Entrepreneurship Center, is one of the many student-focused startup accelerators/incubators in Boston.
VariMold, one of the startups out of Accelerate, is creating hardware that helps architects design and utilize sophisticated shapes for large-scale construction projects.
We sat down with VariMold CEO Maarouf Barry to talk about the startup. Barry went into detail about how Accelerate has helped the company move forward with development and even touched upon another startup that he is running.
CB: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins of VariMold?
MB: It all started with my interest with Accelerate as an opportunity on campus to become an entrepreneur and start a company. So, I went in there looking for opportunities, perhaps looking for team members, but not necessarily looking for an idea. While I was there, I met Christian Roidt, who was one of the co-founders of VariMold. He was hoping to add someone with a business background.
Christian’s initial idea was to create structural architecture with interesting shapes. To me, that was a very interesting concept -- with the potential to change how cityscapes are being built.
What I liked most about the idea was how architecture truly plays into the culture of societies and cities, and how we could be a part of something that innovates how the built environment is being conceived, designed, and executed.
CB: What is the ultimate goal of VariMold?
MB: To enable architects and designers to expand their design creativity, What they design can become a reality.
We see many very interesting and unique buildings, but they tend to be built by well-known architects who already have the funding and are backed up by larger organizations.
Our goal is to provide the technology and manufacturing capability that facilitates the creation of organic building shapes so that professionals who don’t have that kind of backing can also realize their design vision.
CB: Explain what your company does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work? Any use case that stands out to you?
MB: There’s definitely a huge software portion, but it’s mostly hardware. Unfortunately, we cannot go into too much detail about how it works. We are still working on our patents. With the current method of creating molds, and also one of the biggest issues in the industry, is that you can’t use the same mold twice. Especially if you are designing a large building.
We are working on a manufacturing solution that tackles the repetition of the curves, but also brings diversity and complexity to them.
There has been a lot of in-house testing. We are currently on our fourth prototype. We’ve been testing how to create curvatures and an automated system where architects can input their designs directly into our solution.
CB: How long is the development process on some of the prototypes?
MB: It depends. Our education is our first priority. There are some semesters where schoolwork will slow down and we can focus on prototype development, but there are some semesters where we are unable to. Despite that, we try to meet at least once or twice a week, primarily at Accelerate and are always thinking of new ways to improve.
Just being at Accelerate, it’s a good environment to be in. We can bounce ideas back and forth with other startup teams who are doing something completely different.
CB: What has your time at Accelerate been like? What made you interested in participating in it?
MB: When I first started attending Wentworth, I was a construction management major. I wanted to learn a different skill and was exposed to that business when I was younger. What attracted me to that particular major were the interactions with people, but then after about a year, I found I didn’t have a lot of common ground with my classmates.
On a whim, I went to an Accelerate meeting and almost immediately I switched to a business management major with a focus on entrepreneurship.
Overall, Accelerate has been a great experience. It’s one of the most diverse organizations I have been a part of and it’s a chance to hang out with and get to know like-minded students. The mentors are always there to help guide you through your journey. Other students also inspire and help others.
CB: How big is your team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
MB: There are currently three of us. The two other active members of the team are Chris Carrigan-Brolly and CJ Favazza. Chris is an applied mathematics major and CJ is a mechanical engineer.
The way Chris came onto the team was interesting. Chris and I actually attended the same high school and were friends prior to that. I told him about the idea [for VariMold] one day and he decided to take a trip from New York to Boston to help out. Fast forward a year-and-a-half later and he transferred to Wentworth. Since then, he’s become fully active in the Wentworth community and he’s always at Accelerate.
CB: Has your company participated in any trade shows/meetup events in the Boston area? What about events outside of Boston?
MB: We’ve attended various conferences as both students and entrepreneurs, trying to get feedback from industry specialists. I had an opportunity to do an internship at MassChallenge, which opened a lot of doors for us. We try to talk to as many people as we can, whether it’s professors on campus, or construction and manufacturing professionals.
In addition, we were a student spotlight at Mass Innovation Nights #90, which was located at Autodesk and great for our focus on the built environment.
CB: Is the company bootstrapped or seeking investments?
MB: We received $13,500 in funding from Accelerate to date. With that, we’ve been building out the prototype, attending events, and creating marketing materials.
CB: On top of being the CEO and working out of Accelerate, you are also running a second startup? Could you tell us a little more about that and how you manage the time to do so?
MB: I’ve always been interested in companies that make a social or environmental impact. I co-founded Eleis Farms with my parents and three brothers.
We work for smallholder farmers in the northern coast of Guinea, mostly run by women, and teach sustainable farming methods. At the farms we grow sustainable palm oil. This crop is commonly used in African cuisine, but it has nearly endless byproducts. What we’re trying to do is process sustainable palm oil, and reduce the impact on the environment by reinvesting the proceeds of the oil in reforestation and mangrove protection projects We are inserting modern technology into the farming process such as state-of-the-art filtration systems.
I had the chance to represent Eleis Farms at the United Nations General Assembly's African Diaspora Entrepreneurs Exhibition. We [Eleis Farms] were the only student-led startup invited.
CB: So, are you thinking about starting another company?
MB: Two is enough. (laughs)
As long as I am able to provide a positive impact by expanding creatively or promoting socio-economic development in West Africa.