As an electrical engineering graduate student at MIT, Limor “Ladyada” Fried started designing her own projects, like an mp3 player in a mint tin, and sharing them on the internet. When people started asking her to put together kits so they could build the same projects, she eventually gave into their requests and her company Adafruit Industries was born in her dorm room.
Some of her first projects included a low-power RF jammer that prevents cell phones operating in a user’s personal space and an open-source hardware charger–which remains one of the company’s best sellers. One of the goals of Adafruit is to teach people how cool it is to be an electrical engineer and how fun it can be to make stuff. By providing kits for people to experiment with they can learn the skills that are important for engineering, science, technology, and math without a lot of the formal training that can sometimes turn people off from trying to build their own electronics.
One of the things that makes her approach to electronics different is the sense of community Ladyada builds through her projects–by inviting the buyer to improve upon the project at any level and share these improvements to create what she calls an ecosystem of innovation. Adafruit follows an open-source ideology sharing all its component designs and code with the end user with the goal that the user can learn how the project works for themselves and learn how to change it to fit their needs.
While Adafruit started out in a dorm room, it moved to a location in the heart of New York City that gives the company space to design and manufacture its kits and components. In 2011 Fried was profiled in WIRED magazine and was the first female engineer to be featured on the magazine’s cover. She has also been named Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur of the year and is a founding member of the New York City Industrial Business Advisory Council. For her work in the maker community she was named a White House Champion of Change in 2016.
Written by Angela Goad