Nick O'Donnell of Sarasota loves using math and high-tech tools to design and make wildly creative but useful objects.
He also created a business to showcase and sell his work.
For all of that, O'Donnell on Tuesday received the Governor's Young Entrepreneur Award in Tallahassee from Gov. Rick Scott.
O’Donnell, 23, the founder and owner of Sarasota-based startup Terraform Design, was recognized for creating an innovative business. He makes precisely carved furniture, light fixtures and other structures using computer-assisted design and laser cutting tools.
The Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award recognizes Florida students, college graduates and young entrepreneurs who are excelling in the workplace and creating innovative ideas in the state.
O’Donnell, who graduated with a degree in entrepreneurship from Florida State University's College of Business in 2015, said he loves the process of turning an idea into a tangible product.
“It’s really fun to have a crazy idea, something that might seem not doable and then to see it a little while later sitting there in front of you,” O’Donnell said. “It’s really cool.”
“It’s awesome to be recognized," he said. "I didn’t think I’d have this kind of success only a year and a half out of school.”
O’Donnell’s former professors are not surprised to he received the award.
“Our main goal is to train students in entrepreneurship and give them real-world opportunities so when they leave Florida State, they can achieve immediate success with business startups like Nick’s,” said Susan Fiorito, founding director of the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship, Jim Moran professor and program director of entrepreneurship. Florida State’s entrepreneurship program is the predecessor to the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship, which is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2018.
In FSU’s entrepreneurship program, students take courses in technology commercialization, organizational design and venture finance. They also participate in team projects that focus on starting, managing and growing a successful venture.
O’Donnell said his design ideas probably would have been difficult to act on a generation ago. But today he has a wide array of state-of-the-art tools, along with some traditional ones, at his disposal.
The Fab Lab
Terraform operates at the shared business workspace at the Faulhaber Fab Lab at the Suncoast Science Center, 4452 S. Beneva Road, in Sarasota. The lab is stocked with expensive fabrication lab equipment that Fritz and Ping Faulhaber originally donated to the G-Wiz children's museum and which they bought back at auction after the museum closed. The Fab Lab is modeled after one at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
At the lab, O'Donnell's Terraform Design uses 3D computer-aided design software, algorithmic modeling and laser-cutting equipment to create his wide array or products. The 2011 graduate of Lakewood Ranch High School uses what he calls “parametric design” to develop 3D designs that can be customized depending on what customers want.
He conceived the idea for Terraform Design as a student in FSU’s InNOLEvation — a business incubator for students. It was at a presentation at the College of Business that he learned about an emerging industry known as digital furniture fabrication.
Florida State Board of Trustees chairman Ed Burr attended the Cabinet meeting at the Florida Capitol where O’Donnell accepted the award and showed his “Spore Lamp” — a light fixture constructed with 150 pieces of laser-cut wood. Burr said he liked what he saw and planned to submit an order for one soon.
“He exemplifies what we do at Florida State University, trying to educate our young students to become great, productive adults, get jobs and create economic development,” Burr said.