Semester in San Francisco led Gabrielle Whittle to an Innovator Award

Gabrielle Whittle was trying to find the means to precise herself creatively. She discovered her method ahead final 12 months at Northeastern’s Bay Space location whereas attending the Semester in San Francisco program. 

Her immersion in an entrepreneurial atmosphere impressed Whittle to develop a transformable excessive heel for womens’ sneakers.

Whittle, who not too long ago graduated in mechanical engineering, obtained an inaugural $10,000 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards acknowledge 19 ladies who’re graduates or present college students at Northeastern. They’re receiving a complete of $100,000 in grants to assist gasoline 17 ventures.

Whittle was impressed to pursue her entrepreneurial intuition throughout a Semester in San Francisco final 12 months. Photograph by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern College

Whittle has been working with a Northeastern guide to develop an adjustable sole and detachable heel that may allow her product to be worn as a flat or a high-heel shoe.

“Anybody who has worn heels understands the inconvenience and the ache related to them,” says Whittle, who has fashioned Phoenix Footwear to develop her shoe. “The purpose is to make it simpler, extra handy, and simply extra enjoyable to put on excessive heels.”

Whittle had been on co-op within the Bay Space for the previous six months when she started her Semester in San Francisco in January 2020. She switched out of a gaggle venture in an effort to take an age-old downside in ladies’s vogue.

“I considered all of the instances after I would exit and must compromise my excessive heels for a extra sensible possibility that didn’t go together with my outfit,” Whittle instructed the Innovator Award judges in a speech final month. “I realized that though others had made comparable merchandise, nobody had made an excellent nice shoe of this type. Making a product like it is a actually difficult optimization downside that will require an engineer who might design for construction and performance, whereas protecting visible aesthetics on the forefront.”

“Making a product like it is a actually difficult optimization downside,” says Whittle, who’s placing her engineering diploma to good use. Photographs by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern College

Whittle says she was impressed by the inventive atmosphere in San Francisco.

“The professors are simply superb—they’re all profession entrepreneurs in order that they know what they’re speaking about,” Whittle says. “San Francisco is a really entrepreneurial-spirited place, and the scholars I used to be in school with additionally had that spirit.”

Whittle is consultant of the ladies who’re being found and empowered by the Innovator Awards, says Diane MacGillivray, Northeastern’s senior vp for college development, who created Girls Who Empower with trustee and chair emeritus Henry Nasella to put money into ladies with entrepreneurial aspirations.

A portrait of Natasha Ibori, co-founder of Uwana Energy.

“Gabbie is an engineer who was feeling a scarcity of path when she did the semester of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley,” MacGillivray says. “And that’s the place she found herself as an entrepreneur. It’s the basic entrepreneurial factor: You establish an issue and say, ‘I’ve an answer to this.’”

Whittle says her involvement within the Innovator Awards has deepened her dedication to entrepreneurship by exposing her to a gaggle of like-minded ladies.

“I’ve at all times considered working a enterprise—I assumed it will be cool—however I genuinely by no means thought it was one thing that I might do,” Whittle says. “I simply felt like I didn’t have the data, I didn’t have the cash to do it, and I didn’t know anybody like me who was an entrepreneur. So I do positively suppose there’s a necessity for” the Innovator Awards. 

“It was so good seeing different ladies within the entrepreneur area sharing their journeys,” Whittle says. “It’s actually inspiring, and I feel all of those folks encourage extra ladies to get into entrepreneurship as nicely.”

Molly Beck, founder of, poses for a portrait.

The $10,000 award offers an important enhance in funding for her venture, says Whittle.

“We’ve moved previous 3D printing and prototypes,” Whittle says. “Long term, [the goal] is to boost just a little bit more cash so we are able to rent a contract producer to get precise samples of the ready-to-sell merchandise. I’m hoping by subsequent 12 months that I’ll be capable of market an precise product and begin a presale launch.”

Whittle says her experiences with despair influenced the change in her profession path.

“All through school, I skilled actually heavy ranges of despair for lots of causes,” Whittle says. “I used to be working in nice firms. I used to be doing nice work. However I didn’t really feel happy within the work I used to be doing, after which I skilled loads of loss that led me to a really depressive state.

“My despair actually bought me pondering, how do I create a life for myself that entails happiness and doesn’t enable me to be on this area anymore? I simply felt like I needed to construct one thing for myself. And in order that’s what introduced me to entrepreneurship. It was a clean slate. It was what I created it to be. And I felt like I wanted that in an effort to actually be happy with myself.”

Whittle values the inspirational nature of the award.

“Successful this award has validated that, so long as I empower myself and I educate myself on what I must do, I can do that factor,” Whittle says. “It is not going to fail so long as I put into it the eagerness that I already know I’ve for it. And figuring out that different folks see that in me and in my product, it’s simply actually validating.”

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