INSPIRED: Emily Cummins

Emily Cummins is the first ever inventor that we’ve featured on TYC.

One of the U.K.’s brightest young inventors, Emily’s intuitive approach to design and invention has led to a string of accolades. In 2008 she was named Cosmopolitan‘s Ultimate Save the Planet Pioneer; in 2009 she was given the Barclays’ Woman of the Year Award; and in 2010 she was named as one of the Top 10 Outstanding Young People in the World.

Whilst studying at the University of Leeds’ Business School, she developed a sustainable fridge that can run without electricity; it is now used across the Third World to provide people with clean, drinkable water.

Impressed? Read on to find out more about Emily’s career, and her advice to budding inventors.

When did you first realise you had a flare for invention?

It wasn’t until my GCSEs that I realised I had a real talent for invention. For my first three years at secondary school I was making the same things as everyone else in my technology classes. That wasn’t inventing, that wasn’t being creative – I wasn’t able to use my talent – all I was doing  was taking a set of instructions and making a product.

During my GCSE course in Resistant Materials I was able to be more creative and design a product that met a real need, as opposed to just meeting a specification.

Do you think enough is currently done to inspire young people to become inventors?

I think popular culture has a large part to play in terms of encouraging young people to pursue invention as a career path. Programmes like Dragon’s Den play a large part in inspiring young people to think about invention and entrepreneurship.

More could be done in terms of mentoring, too. It’s important for young people to have role models – someone to ignite that spark within them.

We’ve got some talented young people in this country and a lot of them are overlooked. So much young talent goes un-nurtured in the

Emily at the Cosmopolitan Awards

UK which is a real shame.

Which sustainable invention (aside from your own) is your favourite?

My favourite sustainable inventions are the simplest ones. I saw something the other day where a guy had put holes in the tin roofs of homes in India.  They had filled water bottles and put them through the holes in the roof to let natural light into the room.  It’s such a simple idea, but so effective too.

In a nutshell, simple solutions to everyday problems are my favourites.

Who are your design heroes and villains?

I love Trevor Baylis’ work and his wind up radio. He sparked my interest quite a while back.

A design villain for me is anyone who would produce a product that is absolutely unnecessary – whether it’s a fridge with an inbuilt iPod dock, or a cuddly toy that can be won in a fairground.

Have you done any work experience that’s helped advance your career?

What’s important is to work with other entrepreneurs and other people. Whether it’s just a day or a week’s work experience, it helps to inspire ideas and spark creativity. I think a good piece of advice is to try lots of different things, even if you think you won’t like them, just to try it out.

I once did some work experience in a Vet’s surgery and I hated it, but just by doing things you’re unsure of, it’s worth it just to realise that it’s something you don’t want to do. You learn from your mistakes.

There was nothing really special about me at school – my GCSEs were good, but they weren’t the best. My A-Levels were OK, but again they weren’t the best. All I did was focus on what I enjoyed doing – what I absolutely adored more than anything – and put my time into that. I was passionate and determined.

Finally, what advice would you give to wannabe inventors?

I encourage young people to try new things, take risks, do work experience placements, to get talking to all different sorts of people and to explore new ideas. I always tell the young people I work with to try different things until you find the one thing that makes you tick, and then focus on that and then see what you can do.

Find out more about Emily and her work here, visit her website and Tweet her: @EmilyCummins.

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