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Entrepreneur Harpreet Singh Walia is building a company Preemadonna whose first product is a nail painting robot. But there’s so much more happening alongside! Find out.
“I like being smart. I like feeling beautiful. I like being a girl,” says Pree (short for Harpreet Singh Walia), entrepreneur and inventor of the world’s first nail art robot and founder of Preemadonna. At 29, Pree, the daughter of Sikh immigrants who came to the US in search of bigger opportunities, was uncertain about her future. She had no employer – only a crazy idea. She wanted to build a robot which could paint nails.
The ‘Nailbot’ was born and there was no looking back for Pree. Although she is not an engineer and does not have a STEM degree, she is determined to take Nailbot all the way, build creative products at her company and inspire young women all over the world.
I had a chance to connect with Pree early this year and here is what she had to say about her company Preemadonna (and no, she is not a narcissist. She turned her original name Harpreet into something powerful yet feminine – Preemadonna), her work and her passion to truly make a difference.
Pree says that she never dreamt that she would one day start a company that builds robots, printers and connected hardware! Taking me through the journey, she says, “I worked in LED lighting and building automation before starting Preemadonna. I saw the shift (analog to digital) in lighting and building automation over the past 8 years while working at early stage startups in Silicon Valley. I wanted to create a technology company that was really focused on dynamic women and girls (or anyone that identifies with our mission!), and we were going to pioneer the smart beauty vertical IoT (Internet of Things).”
She has no hesitation in calling herself a “girls’ girl”. The youngest of three sisters, Pree studied Gender Studies at Northwestern University, and credits the women in her life who helped shape her experiences and gave her the confidence to start Preemadonna. She says, “My first investor, Diane Donald, was my freshman year roommate at University! I didn’t even have a prototype but she believed in my ability to execute. This company has been funded by my best friends, sorority sisters, business school classmates, technologists like Helen Greiner and funds like Founders Factory and SOSV.”
Given her deep interest in women in technology, Preemadonna is partnering with organizations like MakerGirl, Digital Media Academy (Made by Girls), high schools (Marlborough High School) and individual girl scout troops to host events, share the Nailbot journey and show how the Nailbot was built through Maker Kit sessions. Pree adds, “We are working on a ‘code your own nail art’ module – this is one of our initiatives for the summer!”
Pree believes that the nailbot is not just a device for the fashion-conscious. It is part of a bigger movement, whose goal is to help girls learn to invent, design and code. With Nailbot’s Maker Kit, one can program an original prototype using Arduino, an open source platform.
She talks of how the Nailbot is enabling a popular form of creative expression, saying, “Nail decoration has existed since the invention of the wheel but the way we decorate has changed (food coloring, henna, nail polish bottles, stickers and now the Nailbot!). I hope the Nailbot will democratize this form of creative expression and give artists a way to share their creations more easily. That said, our art marketplace that we are building will have applications to print on things other than nails! And some of these applications may be more popular in India!”
Discussing her journey, Pree doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that she has failed many times in her career and while building this company. She says, “The hardest part of doing anything is taking the first step. I think girls are unfairly culturized to be ‘perfect’. Take risks early in life and if/when you fail, just get back up. You aren’t going to be perfect and the road to success is paved with lots of uncertainty. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with positive people.”
As someone who has worked at other startups and on political campaigns too, she believes that it’s not always about starting your own company either. As she says, “I was really good at building other people’s dreams. I think a lot of people get caught up in wanting to have their own companies – but eventually you are going to ask other people to believe in you and build your dream. I believe you must also support others in their pursuits for it to work.”
The company has also made it to be part of L’Oreal and Founders Factory’s accelerator, giving them access to beauty industry insights, and global attention. With product development on to get out the Nailbot this year on a commercial scale, 2017 surely promises to be a crucial year for Preemadonna!
Top image via the company website