The reason I started i.am+ and moved into the tech world is because of what the tech world is calling Wearables. The title itself says a lot - you are wearing things on your body but the tech world is not the expert in dressing people. This is the world of fashion and the fashion industry has been dressing people for hundreds of years. I saw a void and want to use this opportunity to fill a substantial gap that currently exists between the fashion world and the wearables space.
Wearables are in their infancy. Twenty years from now, devices already on the market will look like they are from Prehistoric times both from a design and a functionality point of view. My mission is to up the game in wearables, to create devices that step up and deliver in terms of fashion, features and functionality.
Through success achieved via my music career, and then venturing into consumer electronics, I have always carved out time for philanthropic activities at the same time. My message has not wavered: a good education is a gift, and that kids should take interest in science, technology mathematics and engineering (STEM).
My "day job" as a musician is what got me to this point - made me famous and gave me a platform to be an advocate for what I think is important: a good education for every high school student, and even better, an education that is focused on STEM skills development. And now, my new venture in consumer tech and wearables gives me a way to demonstrate and justify why kids should take an interest in STEM education, to walk the walk vs. just talk.
Success in wearables isn't going to be driven by the giants of yesteryear. Instead it is going to be developed and brought to market by the unlikely candidate. It's going to be the person with the best idea, regardless of size of company, or maybe one creative person with a kernel of an idea who doesn't working for a company at all. It could be kids from Boyle Heights, the South Bronx, the Fourth Ward, South London, Hackney, or Brixton.
Today's entrepreneurs and inventors have amazing resources at their fingertips because technology has leveled the playing field. Now would-be entrepreneurs with ambition and a fresh idea can learn to design items using a computer or tablet, bring a prototype design to life using 3D printing technology, raise money through crowdfunding, and offer items for sale online.
My experience as one of the founders of Beats Electronics showed me that I had the ability to take an idea and bring it to life. It took a team of experts with both design and STEM skills to create Beats headphones. And then it took another team to make Beats a fashion statement and a pop culture success. But the root of success at Beats was based on STEM knowledge.
I am not a freaking consumer electronics wizard, but I am dreamer with a vision and I spot gaps in the market. As I challenge my students that are part of the i.am.angel Foundation's after- school tutoring program to take an interest in STEM and learn associated skills, I want to set a good example for them. I am living proof that a good education and an interest in STEM skills can transform a life.
I hope that i.am+ and the introduction of my new wearable device and fashion accessories will continue to inspire my students to apply themselves, study hard and take advantage of every connection available: participating in civic hackathons hosted by City of Los Angeles and Mayor Eric Garcetti, studying Mandarin over the summer break in China through 100,000 Strong, and the opportunity to meet dignitaries, and mix with business and government leaders.
So far it's working: student grades at the i.am College Track center have gone from 1.0 to 3.5 and 4.0 averages. Every student in our program is dreaming and thinking big. Regardless of zip code, every kid from underserved neighborhood across America deserves access to a quality education. The future of innovation and entrepreneurship in our country depends on increasing STEM skills and having an educated work force. The dedication of the i.am College Track scholars inspires me to do more, to think bigger, and to keep raising money so even more deserving kids from my neighborhood in Boyle Heights can attend this very special, and very effective after-school program.
With some STEM knowledge and a vision, discipline, drive and a great "small but mighty" team at my start up company, we've accomplished something wonderful. I'm a creative person, but can honestly say that focusing on music alone has never tapped my potential in the same way that I am working right now. The merging of many functions required to create and deliver a fresh approach to wearables includes design, fashion, coding, app development, 3D printing, manufacturing and marketing excites me. I don't believe I've ever been this happy and satisfied with my life. It's a great feeling and I want to keep it going!
To watch will.i.am and special guests on stage at Dreamforce 2014 via free livestream, click here.