No two journeys of innovation and entrepreneurship will look the same. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, a creative thinker, or simply someone eager to learn from those who have walked unconventional paths, understanding how your collective experience can inform your journey might completely change your trajectory. This is exactly what happened for our latest guest of Venture unscripted.
Podcast host Josh Barker sits down with Taryn Kutches, the Vice President of Brand and Business Development at Twisthink. This episode delves into Taryn’s remarkable journey through entrepreneurship, her current role at Twisthink, and how she drove innovation by bringing design and technology together — offering listeners insights into her dynamic experiences and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Listen to the podcast video below or keep scrolling to read the podcast recap.
Engineering a Future
Taryn’s journey through entrepreneurship and her current position at Twisthink was full of twists and turns, as entrepreneurship often is. She got her start at Michigan State University (MSU) in mechanical engineering. She was passionate about the medical side of things, but MSU only had a specialization, which she took advantage of and decided to ultimately pursue biomedical engineering.
“But then I quickly discovered I don’t necessarily want to do engineering,” Taryn explained. “My brain kind of works that way, but I’m definitely more of a people person.”
So then Taryn went into medical device sales, taking some of what she learned in her biomedical engineering background and combining it with her people skills before realizing that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do either.
“I was missing some of the technical components of my background,” she continued.
Starting a Company
Her journey to find a role that combined all the different experiences and abilities that Taryn has led her to work in the automotive industry for about eight years. She specialized in business development roles for plastic injection molding organizations in the Grand Haven, Michigan, area where she is originally from.
But during this time, Taryn still had the egging feeling that she wanted to do something more — something different.
“We were walking around the auto show in Detroit one day, and I started noticing what women were carrying,” Taryn said. “And there was a lack of backpacks. It was actually around the time that diaper bags as backpacks were becoming super popular, and I thought, ‘We should create a backpack for working women that’s affordable and stylish.’”
Taryn recruited a coworker and started a company called Parker Design Co. The two held a Kickstarter campaign and ran the company for about 4 years. In that time, Taryn learned a lot about herself and how to leverage all the components that make up her professional capacity.
Where did Taryn come up with the name for her company Parker Design Co.? Listen here for the story.
As they grew and learned new things every day, Parker Design Co. helped her to connect to the innovation and startup community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even getting the experience with Kickstarter was invaluable, especially as a founder of a company where the biggest hurdle is gaining capital and funding. Kickstarter allowed them to develop a prototype and essentially pre-sell their product.
From it, Taryn’s company was able to reach its initial goals in about 30 days and had funds to purchase inventory, fulfill the sales, and reinvest in the business to grow and add even more inventory, including considering a second product.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it was clear that the company was facing a case of “the right product but wrong time.” They needed to make a decision. “Do we double down? Do we rebuild the business? Do we part ways?” Taryn asked.
“I was at a really unique spot in my life where I realized I have this technical background. I’ve been in more of a sales capacity, but I also uncovered this passion for entrepreneurship and creativity and design,” Taryn explained. “And so now where do I go? How can I leverage all of those components?”
The decision was made. It was time to close, despite having the inventory to move forward, it was a positive way to wrap up that part of her journey.
Combining a Collective Experience
At that, Taryn got connected with Twisthink, which brings together design and technology to drive innovation for organizations. There, she worked in project leadership, marketing/branding, and then transitioned into leading business development.
In the end, it was much easier to phase out Parker Design Co. knowing there was something else that would fuel her creative and technical side.
Twisthink actually comes from the belief that you can twist together technical and analytical minds with creative, design-minded individuals to unlock a ton of value. The company helps organizations innovate their products, services, and experiences by combining the ability to build connected products with the design aspect.
“It’s really about determining how we can help them win where they place and really dovetailing into this whole digital transformation space,” Taryn explained. “Taking the tech talent we have and combining it with strategy and design talent to help organizations really thrive in this new era.”
And this isn’t something new to Twisthink. They’ve been through their own process and made some changes that really set up the business to help more people in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and beyond.
How did they do it?
First, the company rebranded about two years ago — both aesthetically and how it is positioned. Twisthink was primarily known as a product development firm. But as the company grew into the digital space, Twisthink recognized the opportunity to help organizations at more of the front end to determine what deserves to be built.
“As part of the rebrand, we repositioned Twisthink from primarily a product development firm to what we might call a blend between a consultancy and product development firm, helping people figure out at the front end, and then executing that and having a full tech team to help ’em build that,” Taryn explained.
Second, the company really looked at what future ownership looks like. The founders of Twisthink evaluated several options before ultimately deciding on becoming 100% ESOP, making it an employee-owned company. Then, to round out all the changes, the company moved from Holland, Michigan, to downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As a company, Taryn explained that Twisthink went through several exercises to understand what the guiding principles were that the company would want for the team. A lot of them were fueled by Taryn’s personal guiding principles, along with several other individuals on the team.
“I think [the] two of them really stand out are creativity and authenticity,” Taryn explained. “Especially authenticity. You can never sacrifice being authentic to yourself or anybody else.”
Taryn reflects back on the pandemic and how it made more people crave authenticity, especially when we weren’t able to interact with others for so long. It’s really about being true to yourself and never sacrificing that.
Along with that, she encourages innovators to never underestimate the power of creativity. Allow yourself to be creative, even when you don’t feel like you’re an artist or that creative. You don’t have to be in innovation to be creative, you can apply creativity to any and every part of your life.
“I think about, who [do] you want to be? What do you want to do? And then I make sure to do it in an authentic and creative way. It cannot be understated,” Taryn noted. “Authenticity is such a needed thing in our world. And it’s what often breeds creativity.”
So, what’s next for Twisthink and Taryn? Right now, she’s set her eyes on Tech Week Grand Rapids where Twisthink will be hosting two events.
The first event is on Wednesday, September 20 from 3-5 p.m. Twisthink is partnering with Failure Lab to curate three different speakers to talk about their failures and how they responded to them. The storytelling presentations will be followed by a happy hour on the rooftop patio.
The second event is Friday, September 22 from 8-9:30 a.m. The company will be hosting a breakfast and panel discussion about what deserves to exist. In this technological world, where you can create just about anything, Twisthink is opening the conservation around not just what you should build, but what can you build that is most important and impactful.
Learn more about Tech Week and register for Twisthink’s events here.
Listen to the full story and gain even more advice from innovative entrepreneurs by checking out the podcast video below.
For more Venture unscripted. podcasts, click here.