Suz Somersall '02 helps girls around the world turn their creations into reality.
Somersall is the CEO and founder of KiraKira, which provides free 3D modeling courses and resources to young women interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). After completing courses and designs, they then have the opportunity to 3D print their projects, seeing their creations come to life.
"The kids are like fish to water. They watch one class and they're off creating these beautiful architectural structures or these incredibly intricate animations," Somersall said with a smile. "It's really amazing to see that with just a little nudge, we can help them to embrace their own creativity, and then we see the incredibly sophisticated things that kids can come up with."
Prior to starting multiple small businesses, Somersall graduated from Brown University in 2006 and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2007, where she discovered her love for STEM.
"RISD is where I discovered 3D modeling, and it was kind of ironic that in art school I first discovered my love for engineering," Somersall said. "It was through learning engineering tools and software that I could create my artwork."
After returning to Charlottesville, Somersall started at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business iLab incubator working with undergraduate women and realized a gap in the curriculum being offered and interest in 3D modeling. She soon filled it with her own online courses on how to use engineering software to create things like jewelry, fashion, modern art, and architectural-inspired designs.
Today, KiraKira is one of the only all-female tech companies in Silicon Valley and both the academy and Somersall have been recognized at the national level, winning awards like CBIC Innovator of the Year and the Kathryne Carr Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence. KiraKira was also chosen as one of Intel's Education Accelerator startups and is now a part of the Intel Capital Portfolio.
"I feel really lucky to have early supporters here in Charlottesville, including Kathy Carr. I am so grateful to the Charlottesville community for everything they did to help me incubate the idea before I came out to California to scale it," Somersall said.
But despite great success, Somersall also faced many challenges, such as often "being the only girl in the room" in a male-dominated field. But her foundation of strong resolve and perseverance, cultivated in her high school years, has helped her overcome gender gaps and obstacles.
"I was the first girl on the Boys' Squash team [at St. Anne's Belfield-School]. I kept getting beat, and beat, and beat, which is kind of like a metaphor for being out here – you have to fail constantly, and if you fail enough times, you'll finally have a success," noted Somersall. "You can't give up, you have to start embracing failure. And that's what happened with squash, I finally beat someone."
Now, Somersall helps girls succeed and build their own confidence.
"Giving the girls confidence is what inspires me. Seeing how they have so much inside that they don't really even need that much help and then they're just off," Somersall said when asked what inspires her. "I get a batch email every night showing me all of the student creations that day and I look through all the incredible designs they're making. If I've had a long day, it makes me feel so much better and reminds me why I'm doing what I'm doing."
Learn more about KiraKira Academy: www.kirakira.com.