Humans of Fung: Jack Miller, MEng ’15 (ME)
On entrepreneurship, mentorship, and growing through failure.
Jack Miller graduated from the Berkeley MEng in 2015 where he studied Mechanical Engineering. Since graduation, he co-founded Move2Play, an interactive technology company whose mission is to inspire kids to be active and engaged. Now, he returns to the MEng program as an advisor for an industry-sponsored capstone project. Here, he shares more about his unique experience as an MEng alumnus and capstone advisor.
Tell us about yourself and your journey into the MEng program.
After graduating from UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2010 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, there was no cooler route than moving to Silicon Valley and joining a technology start-up. So that’s what I did. Well… technically a green-tech start-up on the fringe of the valley in Los Gatos, but close enough. I quickly discovered that the company wasn’t on the “unicorn” track, shrinking to a third the size by the time I left. But with each round of layoffs, I was handed more responsibility and more engineering excitement.
I spent four years designing and building electrochemical cells for the in-house lab and the football-field-sized pilot facility. As I started my fifth year, however, I began to crave a more consumer-focused field. Rather than design for in-house testing, I wanted to build something that would actually go to market.
The MEng Mechanical Engineering Product Design concentration seemed like an excellent way to build on my basic design skills and transition into the consumer product world.
What did you take away from earning your MEng degree and what have you been up to since graduating?
The first thing I noticed as I started class for the first time in five years was a surprising appetite for learning. From kindergarten to UCSB, I’d enjoyed school, but more as a pleasant obligation. I was a back third of the classroom kind of student.
At Berkeley, I sat in the front row every session. I didn’t view my time there as a box to be checked, or a stepping stone to the next ambition. I was genuinely focused on soaking up knowledge and improving my product design abilities.
I took a class on “ergonomic chair design” in the architecture school. It was my first introduction into blending engineering, function, and aesthetics. I built a strange looking chair out of aluminum and bent plastic that I was pretty darn proud of.
Can you tell us about Move2Play and your experience as a co-founder?
Towards the end of my year in the MEng program, I started experimenting with some product ideas with a hometown friend and fellow mechanical engineer. In one of our prototyping sessions, we were hanging out with his much younger cousins. They were sitting on the couch, glued to their iPad screens. With that scene in mind, we decided to see if we could engineer something to get kids off the couch, interact with each other again, and most importantly, get them moving!
Over a year later, we had a movement-based technology embedded in soft, lovable toys. In all honesty though, we were just trying to sell the tech to a larger company. I’m still not sure why, but at some point we decided to try to do it all ourselves. Move2Play was born from this!
On paper, our growth to our current state has been steady, but it never felt that way. We’ve found a magical ratio that persists — 7:1. Seven things go wrong for every one thing that goes right. The rare success however makes up for the endless missteps. The first time seeing a kid open our packaging, pull out a Move2Play toy, and engross themselves in play was tough to beat!
How did you come to be an MEng capstone mentor/advisor?
The capstone project was a cornerstone of my MEng experience, so I wanted to see if Move2Play could help continue that tradition. Also, who wouldn’t want a team of talented and creative Berkeley students to help explore new tech initiatives?
What’s different about the program since you were a student?
Well… it was mostly virtual this past year, so that was a new experience. I think it worked out well though. We were able to keep a consistent meeting schedule, which can be tough for busy advisors to maintain with in-person meetings. With multiple 3D printers, we were also able to collaborate on prototyping from different parts of the state.
As a capstone advisor and MEng alumni, what insights can you share about the value of the MEng degree/experience?
The MEng curriculum played a huge role in the early stages of Move2Play. The MEng business overview is crucial for an engineer trying to raise money, structure accounting, file intellectual property (IP), and grow sales. From a product development perspective, my coding skills went from a “D-” to a solid “B” while at Berkeley. This proved to be crucial; we’ve coded most of our toys completely in-house.