Daniela Paredes Fuentes
Daniela Maria Paredes Fuentes studied Innovation Design Engineering, graduating with an MSc in 2014. This MSc/MA programme is jointly run by Imperial and the Royal College of Art – find out more about the course. On the Master's course she met Oluwaseyi Sosanya, and together they co-founded the start-up Gravity Sketch, the 3D-virtual reality sketching tool.
In 2019, Daniela was recognised in Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation Awards – read this Imperial article describing Daniela’s win. More recently, in 2020, Daniela and Gravity Sketch raised $3.7 million in seed funding – news that was covered by Imperial’s Enterprise Lab.
We spoke to Daniela about her time at Imperial and how this has impacted her remarkable career, drawing on entrepreneurship tips and her experience as a woman in STEM.
Why did you choose Imperial as the place to follow your interest in STEM subjects?
Because of its prestige in engineering and science, and because I knew I would be able to develop very interesting things. Being linked to a double Master's with the Royal College of Art, I had the perfect combination of engineering and science on the Imperial side, and art and design on the RCA side.
Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?
The joint Master's was about combining these disciplines in order to produce products, experiences or innovative solutions. Most of the course was practical and always with a disruptive approach. We were always challenged beyond the ideas we came up with. We were inspired to pursue areas of knowledge we had never even used: I used electronics and chemistry whilst trying to form solutions on pre-existing world problems.
I applied design thinking alongside science and engineering in order to develop something new. The teachers and students constantly pushed us to come up with interesting ideas. During my two years at Imperial, I literally lived at Imperial and those years were amazing.
I was constantly proposing things I had never done, and we knew we would make a difference in the world. We had very good teachers who were tough as well; yet, they inspired us to always do better, as well as the students who came from all over the world. It was about growing up together and not competing with each other.
What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?
I learned to do magic. Being an industrial designer, I could have proposed interesting concepts in the design area. Instead, throughout my time at Imperial, I collected tools that allowed me not only to propose concepts, but to disrupt and make my ideas come to life using science and engineering in a practical and fun way. That taught me to always keep learning: nothing is impossible, there are only things I still don’t know how to do.
That is something I apply to my everyday life as an entrepreneur. When you innovate, there will always be something you don’t know how to do, and that should never stop you.
Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?
Peter Childs always found a way to give me feedback in a way that meant I was never satisfied with what I had done, and I had to keep searching for a more interesting solution. He pushed me and I aimed to reach the maximum I could in my professional development. Peter is the kind of person who doesn’t know the word ‘no’ and has no limits - he was a true inspiration.
Another inspiring person at Imperial was Andy Brand: he was definitely one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life. He is the kind of person that takes his role as a teacher very seriously. He listened to your ideas and kept thinking about them, and later on would send you emails with more information on what you had told him. He was always involved in wanting to make your project reach its highest potential, giving you the tools you needed so you could give your very best.
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
Every time we were working late so we could finish a project. Every project was very important and I remember all of them quite fondly.
I remember all the sleepless nights, and all the discussions about which idea was the best and how to combine it with every other idea. Being in the Pink Room presenting to students and faculty members and getting their feedback as a team is one the best memories I have.
What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?
The Pink Room but I don’t think it exists anymore. We had no idea why they called it the Pink Room but it was where we presented our projects and got briefed for the next ones. It was a thrilling place and I remember it fondly.
Can you tell us a bit about the start-up you are working on?
Gravity Sketch is now one of the leading VR design softwares in the industry. It is being used by some of the top automotive companies around the world, blockbuster film studios and many talented designers who are looking to expand their creative power.
How has Imperial helped you in your career so far?
Imperial has helped me a lot, especially when we graduated. It was one of the places that helped us the most, enabling us to continue with our project until it was transformed into a company.
Imperial is one of the institutions that has shaped Gravity Sketch’s reality as we know it.
What have been your career highlights and lowlights?
Highlights: I got a first-class education, which I achieved through studying and having fun. I left my country to live and study in London and, in the end, I was not disappointed - I got that and more.
Lowlights: it only lasted two years!
What are your plans for the future?
To continue with Gravity Sketch. We have been working on it for many years and it is gaining more traction every day. We are now one of the leading software companies in the automotive industry and other industrial design companies are starting to use it. We hope our company will be as big as other software companies such as Adobe and Autodesk.
We will eventually see what’s next, but I will never stop creating and innovating because that is what keeps me alive.
What would your advice be for current students who are budding entrepreneurs?
My advice for fellow entrepreneurs is to take risks, calculated risks, but not be precious with an idea and develop it until you think it’s perfect. Do the minimum and launch it in the market just to see if it works. Talk to every possible person about your idea and your project. Go out and look for investment, even if you think your project isn’t worth it - it is always good to talk to people and have feedback on something someone might invest in, and if not, it’s good practice. And be daring: the world is waiting for what you have to offer and if you don’t, we could miss out on something great.
What particular advice would you give to girls who are thinking about studying STEM, particularly at Imperial?
First of all, congratulations: the world needs you. Second, don’t think so much that you are women: that doesn’t define who you are in your STEM studies or in your professional life. Focus on being yourselves and giving the best you’ve got: you will make a difference, you will propose different things that the world of innovation and engineering is missing.
Nowadays the world is made for and by men - we need a feminine vision on things, with a different approach that gives diversity to the objects, experiences and services we live by.
What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumna?
I’m proud to be an Imperial alumna because I know many people who are making remarkable things all over the globe who come from Imperial. Seeing that the education we received has generated such a positive impact in the world fills me with pride.
What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?
Do you have a favourite quote or saying?
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)
Before you go, is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m so happy to be sharing my project because Gravity Sketch is an academic project from Imperial that aimed to push every barrier - we didn’t just want it to be a company, but we aimed to disrupt and shake up the design world.
Because we dared to think differently and pushed our idea until the very end, we were able to create something that no one had ever done before - and now, we are not only making an impact in the design world, we are leading it.