Meet Fiona Dent, Makerversity CEO

By Krisi

 

So Fiona, tell us about your career before Makerversity? 

I started my career as an art and fashion photographer living in Barcelona; then I came to London in the 1990s to join the media industry and pursued one of the only digital jobs in the UK at the time, working on the launch of www.newscientist.com. This was before Google even existed; there were no rules and no roadmap, it was up to us to test and invent what we did with the site. It was the most energising and career-defining moment; three 20-somethings, a developer, a web editor and myself given carte blanche to launch the site. Since then I’ve worked on some of the most famous media brands including Wallpaper*, which I ran for its 10th Anniversary and launched its website www.wallpaper.com. Most recently I was on the Board of Time Inc.(UK) the biggest consumer publisher, running its Lifestyle brands. I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring and advising entrepreneurs in premium design e-commerce, health & wellbeing and fintech start-ups.

And I am very excited to be given the opportunity to join Makerversity. It has such a fantastic spirit; I feel so lucky to be able to work with its incredible Founders and Directors, Tom, Paul, Krisi, Andy, Joe, Mark and Cathy, and the phenomenal Makerversity Team in London Esther, Liza, Adam, Jean-Luc, Hattie, Nana and Anna, Viggy, Jess, Anne and Cissy in Amsterdam.

 

What do you get up to outside of work?

I remain an obsessive photographer; I used to shoot everything on an enormous 5×4 studio camera; then 5 years ago I decided to only shoot on an iPhone, or my “digital pinhole camera”, a more basic bit of kit with creative limitations…and the rest is history, an Instagram feed numbering thousands of images. I love to travel, most recently spending time in Uzbekistan enjoying its Silk Route architecture, craft and diverse culture. I’ve travelled extensively across South America grabbing the opportunity to speak Spanish non-stop. My husband is a Chinese RCA graduate and we now live a crazy long-distance life, him as an architecture and urban regeneration entrepreneur in Beijing and me doing my thing in London. We’re both obsessed with Japan and think its island mentality and profound passion for aesthetics would be our ideal compromise culture…at some point! I’m also a trustee of the National Centre for Circus Arts, part of the Conservatoire of Drama and Dance and often to be found doing circus acrobatics, badly!

                      Artist’s studio and renovated village family home. Henan, Central China

What excites you about Makerversity?

Through my interview process I was very privileged to be able to talk with some of Makerversity’s members. Their passion and belief in the power of this community and collaboration just blew me away. It is something so special when people are saying those things, it’s very rare. A few of the lovely things members said were:

“People are enabled and empowered to get on with different things…I really like the ethos; a strategic decision has been made to allow small creative businesses to flourish. The community here is very important…Informally we work together, we’re a unit.”

“By osmosis we effortlessly have our finger on the pulse. I hope for a broader reach for Makerversity, true to its ideals, fostering new and different people exchanging ideas, locations, a global community.”

“(In future) the focus could be ideas sharing, collaboration and knowledge and an alumni network who keeps putting in knowledge.”

“I would like Makerversity to be a place of collaboration, a platform to launch from, a place for sharing knowledge, members around the world; also linked to academia, a mediator between science and art.”

Thank you so much to all those members who made the time to talk with me. I’ve always believed in the fusion of creativity and technology, even as a 17-year-old, when my science teachers told me art was a waste of time and my art teacher told me to leave the science lab and just “spend all of your time with us in the art room Darling”! It’s this collision of ideas where true innovation happens. On occasion it feels like it’s taken the world a long time to get there, but I breathed a sigh of relief reading Fast Company five years ago when this idea was slowly starting to gain a foothold. Finally, arts graduates were being seen to add value to tech innovation. Makerversity was right at the start of that thinking.  

 

What is the best idea you’ve had in 2018?

For ages I’ve wanted to launch a blog, because I travel around the world and observe lot of interesting trends and love taking pictures. I wanted to share those things with people and also keep a record for myself to refer to as a platform for my own work. In my previous role in a listed company it was quite difficult to make public comments, as any wrong word could affect the share price. I finally launched my blog a couple of weeks ago and have just edited the second story about rural ancestral retreats being the new Chinese luxury. Writing my own blog has forced me to really analyse and crystallise my own thoughts…think the espresso-rocket-fuel, short, sharp edit of the Economist, rather than pages of badly edited copy. That’s the gauntlet I’ve thrown down to myself, let’s see how I get on! www.fionadent.net

 

                      Artist’s studio and renovated village family home. Henan, Central China

What would your one piece of advice for a young person who doesn’t have a clear direction be?

Be open to all possibilities, don’t pre-judge, don’t be precious…don’t wait for perfection or what you think you want. Try things, learn and refine as you go, discovering what’s right for you on the way. Think about what makes you feel inspired and excited, rather than about job titles. Talk to lots of people, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice; good people really love helping. The journey will no doubt take you to some unexpected places which may be more exciting than the original destination you might have imagined you wanted.

 

Who are your heroes?

I get inspired by people from all walks of life. There is always something to learn, whether from an Argentinian taxi driver about hyper-inflation, government mistrust and the barter system, to chats with a young Bukharan businessman about post-Soviet, Islam-lite Uzbekistan opening its society, to the life of a man carving jewellery from whale bone on Easter Island whilst a storm raged around us and people cooked iridescent blue fish. I’m also fortunate to have eclectic friends who are a constant source of fresh perspective and laughter.

I don’t really have heroes but just a few people who have inspired me include : Federico Fellini, Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman, Larry Sultan, Juan Munoz, Louise Bourgeois, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen, Tadao Ando, Oscar Niemeyer, Sir John Soane, Hokusai, Hogarth, Roald Amundsen, Joe Simpson, Lucy Worsley and James Fox

 

                      Artist’s studio and renovated village family home. Henan, Central China

What drives you in your work?

I’ve always loved innovation, seeking out new trends and how they translate into new products and services. I’ve spent a career doing this and believe you’ll always get a more elegant, nuanced and useful result if you bother to learn what your audience really needs. Way before the label of design thinking it’s what we were doing in the media, to ensure we were as interesting and relevant as we could be for our audiences and their ever-evolving needs. This is why I’ll look forward to meeting as many members as possible and understanding more about what they’d like Makerversity to do for them next.

 

What is your aim at Makerversity?

There is just so much potential for Makerversity. We have amazing, talented, collaborative members, visionary Founders and a passionate team who are part of that community and really understand what it means to be a maker.

Together it feels like we can all be ambassadors for Makerversity and broaden its unique impact in many exciting ways. There are some compelling possibilities. I’m also acutely aware that growth can bring extra complexity and can slow things down. I want to ensure
we don’t slow down and instead accelerate our momentum.

I am an architect’s daughter and grew up with the mantra “Simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve”, Mies van der Rohe. I really subscribe to that. I also recently discovered “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, Leonardo da Vinci. I’ll be keeping both of those thoughts top of mind to ensure we can all move at speed and focus on the exciting stuff!

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Krisi
Posted By Krisi
London Director
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