Editor's Note: Each year, we honor a top entrepreneur in our annual Entrepreneur contest. Meet the finalists in the running for Entrepreneur of 2012. Here, a look at Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit Industries.
When it comes to building a business, entrepreneurs often don’t play by the rules -- they write their own. For Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit Industries, this happened at an early age. Bored by the curriculum in high school, Fried never graduated. Because her father taught at Boston University, she was able to take classes there instead.
Fried soon realized MIT was a better fit for her and transferred. It was in her dorm room at MIT where her open-source hardware and electronics company was born. Since the company’s founding in 2005, Adafruit has moved to a New York City location and grown to 25 employees. Last year, Adafruit -- named in honor of Ada Lovelance, the woman credited with writing the first computer program in the 1800s -- generated $4.5-million in sales.
But it’s more than just Fried’s nickname “Ladyada” that nods at her trailblazing efforts in the world of open source hardware. Fried doesn’t keep any secrets when it comes to exactly how her company’s electronics are put together. In fact, what distinguishes the business is Fried’s open-sourced approach to hardware development. Detailed step-by-step instructions for just how electronics are made are available via free tutorials online. For Fried, educating people on how to build hardware on their own is a fundamental component of her business, which sells 800 products including design kits for electronics from do-it-yourself cell phone chargers to solar power systems to LED displays.
Related: The Innovators: Adafruit's Limor Fried
“I give away the recipe for how it’s done,” says Fried. “I think it’s really important for people to not only understand how we make stuff but how they can then make stuff themselves and at home.”
But Fried isn’t just interested in tapping into the tech-savvy community. She’s working to make technology education exciting and rewarding for kids. In addition to the company’s hundreds of free tutorials available online, Fried recently developed what she calls a badging system -- a tech-savvy spin on boy and girl scout badges -- that enables teachers and parents to reward children with badges for learning different technology skills like 3D printing or building a robot.
And she wants to make herself available when people’s questions come up. Every Saturday night, Fried hosts a live internet video show where anyone can write in with inquiries about electronics engineering for Fried’s real-time response. “I found that the more we help people by teaching them and showing them how to be creative on their own, the more they have rewarded us by being great customers and also being part of our fun community.”
Should Limor Fried be Entrepreneur of 2012? Vote for her here.