A few years ago, Buffalo Rising featured stories about the resident artisans and entrepreneurs that make up the Foundry’s creative community. Since that time, the business incubator located on Northampton Street has grown exponentially with a second floor buildout in the works to accommodate even more start-ups. So we’re re-igniting a feature series on the diverse group of entrepreneurs who are pursuing their passion in this growing makerspace.
Tucked away in a corner of the Foundry’s bustling main floor is the neat, comfortable workspace of Bertholt Schroeder, owner and principal designer of Pencil – a product and concept design consulting company. From his one-man workshop, Bertholt executes and manages design visualization projects for companies of all sizes – from small start-ups to large companies like Miller Coors and Procter & Gamble.
“I problem-solve for products. Companies hire me to come up with new product ideas to disrupt their current product or service – either the function or just the way it looks,” he said. “I’ve worked with a number of companies trying to come up with new programs. I’m more on the visual side, where there is the analytical piece as well. I can capture that piece visually and carry that through to manufacturing.”
Bertholt’s path began with a passion for drawing and design. A Massachusetts native, he moved to Cincinnati to attend the University of Cincinnati’s industrial design program. After living there for about a decade, he and his wife were inspired to move to Buffalo last June by some friends who wanted to expand the reach of their non-profit called CITYvision. Originally based in Columbus, their work doing outreach in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods led to a significant positive shift over time, and they wanted to continue that outreach here in Buffalo.
“I run my own businesses so I can be anywhere I want be,” Bertholt said. “My wife and I decided to come here because we wanted to be involved and help kids from low-income communities. Our friends have a home church here in Buffalo and are really involved with low-income kids. We felt we could get exposure and learn from them how we could help these kids.”
As fate would have it, Bertholt’s connections in the design realm led him to the makerspace that has become an anchor institution in one of Buffalo’s East Side neighborhoods. “A guy I went to school with was an industrial designer at Fisher-Price and had heard about the Foundry. I told him, ‘I’m moving up, do you know a good place where I could run my business?’ and he turned me on to the Foundry. When I came up here it was the first place I went.”
With its diverse group of residents, the Foundry ended up being the ideal atmosphere for Bertholt to do his creative work. “The people are awesome,” he said. “What I really like is that everybody shares ideas, shares problems, shares advice. One of the unfortunate things if you’re running your own business and you don’t have a lot of people on your team, it’s really hard to get outside perspective. But that’s just so available here. And everyone is doing different things so people have really different ideas.”
The nature of Bertholt’s work is constantly changing from quick brainstorming illustrations, to product design problem-solving, to coming up with new packaging concepts. “I will always love drawing and illustration, but I love design because of the problem solving aspect of it,” he said. “Variety is the spice of life – so if I’m doing the same thing over and over again, I’ll go insane. The switching of tasks makes it a rich and exciting career,” he said.
This also means that he has a lot of legwork to do in terms of research before he goes to the drawing table. “With almost any project, you’re learning something new – that’s what makes it challenging. My business is in some ways not specializing. You bring something different to the table in that you have a broad perspective of many different items. Your solution for any problem is not going to be something that someone who’s seeped in the industry for 20 years will think of, but you need to learn that industry in order to solve the problem.”
Bertholt recently worked with a Cincinnati-based start-up called Frameri Eyewear that wanted to create interchangeable eyewear, but didn’t have an understanding of how to design or manufacture it. “I worked with a good buddy who is a designer. The first problem we tackled was how to swap lenses between frames. We came up with a clever, special cut within the frame that a lens can snap in and out of easily.”
Thus, they created a means for a customer to invest in one pair of prescription lenses, but own several compatible frames in different colors and styles. “You could change glasses every day, even match them to your outfit,” Bertholt said. “It’s a cool fashion thing and it’s more affordable. Glasses are ridiculously expensive, but this company wanted to cut out a lot of BS in between and give you a good product for a very good price.”
Bertholt’s diverse client base gives him the opportunity to spend time working with both start-ups and well established brands. His work with larger companies often consists of creating photorealistic images of a product concept to test its appeal to consumers. “I’m going to be doing some work with The Hershey Company to come up with new ideas and visuals for their candy sphere,” he said. “I’ve worked with them a number of times in the past and they’re a really fun team to work with. You can’t be too serious working at a candy company.”
He also enjoys helping start-up companies develop a concept into something visual so they can go out and seek funding to get a project off the ground. “Startups are exciting because what you’re doing has such an immediate visceral effect on the company itself, simply because it’s tiny,” he said. “When you’re working with a giant behemoth of a company it might be a decade before you see how your work has an impact down the line. With a start-up, it’s immediate.”
Having only lived in Buffalo for a year, Bertholt is still looking to establish relationships with more local clients. He’s also going to be hosting some workshops at the Foundry early next year on design software like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. “A lot of people need to use the programs once in a while, but it’s intimidating to use a new tool,” he said. “Start-ups usually don’t know a lot, so giving them those tools and insight is a whole separate exciting part of it, too.”