Jenny Young
Robot Creators Get Their Own Garage

11 Nov 2017

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Show Notes

Topics: EdTech, Failure, Founding, Learning, Mechanical Engineering, Robotics, Startups



In this episode we are joined by Jenny Young, Owner of Brooklyn Robot Foundry. Jenny’s story starts in her childhood garage in Ohio, building things with her dad and learning the joys of failing, solving problems and ultimately succeeding in making machines do things in the real world. And Jenny’s story continues in the present day with her running a successful business giving New York City kids that same garage experience – building robots, failing, learning, succeeding. Along the way Jenny got her pilot’s license, became a mechanical engineer, ran one project and then another and then somehow found herself in project management without feeling like it was a choice she had ever made. So she walked away from the office to return to the garage, this time to host classes full of kids becoming “little inventors and creators.”

Guest Bio

Jenny Young is the owner of Brooklyn Robot Foundry, a place that empowers kids through building. She has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University. She grew up working alongside her father in his garage shop and doing arts and crafts projects with her mother. From an early age she was exposed to the joys of building and designing things from found items. Prior to starting the Foundry, she worked in the educational technology and medical device fields as a project manager and engineer.

Show Notes

  • 02:52 - Brooklyn Robot Foundry
  • 05:27 - Design Engineering
  • 06:02 - “I’m going to go back to to doing something with my hands, and back to actually making things.”
  • 06:07 - “That was really what made me start the business, that I really just missed engineering.”
  • 06:57 - “In New York City there aren’t garages, there aren’t spaces and places to be able to break things and put them back together and to create.”
  • 07:12 - “I wanted to be able to create that space, that suburban garage for city kids … so they could be not so much consumers of products but be more of users of products and creators of products and modifiers of products so that they can really understand how the world works and what’s inside these things that engineers make.”
  • 07:56 - Mechanical Engineering
  • 09:17 - Manufacturing Engineering
  • 10:29 - Electrical Engineering
  • 10:30 - “We’re kind of bridging the gap between mechanical, electrical and software engineering”
  • 10:59 - “You make a snowman with a light-up nose. That’s the simplest project we do with a 2-year-old.”
  • 11:32 - Arduino
  • 12:25 - “We’re not just programming on the computer for a program that’s running within the computer, we’re programming the computer to run something that’s in the physical world.”
  • 13:11 - “For me it was always really important for me to be using my hands and thinking about physics.”
  • 13:25 - “It’s kind of like being a sculptor or like being an artist where you are working in the physical world but making sure things stay stay put, but maybe they’re going to be moving or maybe they’re going to be lighting up, and you can use a computer to control those things and do what you want.”
  • 13:57 - “I feel like if you’re really good at software, and really good at building things in the physical world, man can you do some sweet stuff.”
  • 15:08 - Sikorsky helicopter transmissions
  • 16:57: On ending up in project management: “It felt kind of inevitable and totally out of my control.”
  • 17:33 - Limor Fried
  • 17:54 - Adafruit
  • 18:08 - On returning to engineering: “It’s been really good for my brain, really good for my creativity …”
  • 19:02 - Remembering what if feels like to fail
  • 19:17 Introversion
  • 23:02 - The loneliness of being a founder
  • 24:57 - Bootstrapped, took no funding
  • 25:42 - “It’s this incredible creative experience where everybody makes these pretty junky robots that only sort of work”
  • 25:57 - “If I had investors, they would say, ‘You already have 250 robots, you don’t need any more. Why don’t you start expanding the business.’… But I don’t have to, because it’s mine and I think it’s really fun. And I also think it’s a differentiator to the parents.”
  • 27:57 - “The mission of the business is to get kids back to taking things apart, understanding how things work, understanding that it’s OK to fail, and it’s actually really fun to fail.”
  • 28:21 - “The goal is for them to feel empowered and to understand basic electronics and basic mechanisms and basic coding so that they can say, ‘Hey I’m good enough at doing this that I can create my own thing.’”
  • 28:38 - Public school education emphasis on standardized testing and getting one right answer
  • 30:54 - “And then maybe your last wrong answer is actually a better answer than what you thought.”
  • 32:42 - IKEA
  • 33:17 - Inventors class for advanced students where they design and build their own robots
  • 33:55 - “We’ve just made a little inventor, a little creator, and that’s great.”
  • 35:00 - “That upbringing shaped the way I look at physical mechanical things but it also just shaped the way I look at life. I’ve never been afraid to try something with the fear in my head, ‘Oh, you’re going to fail.’”
  • 36:17 - Retaining girls as customers as they grow older. Letting children make robots with an appearance that appeals to them.


  • Host: Mark S. Weiss
  • Intro and Outro Music: “Florida Song” Copyright 2016 by Photographs (Mark S. Weiss). All rights reserved.
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