Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Picture this: You visit Paris in the spring with a loved one. Amid hours of strolling timeless art, farmers markets, and architecture that spans thousands of years, the two of you share a meal along the Seine, promenades bursting with spring flowers and the flavors of France, a timeless memory that you enshrine in photos to last a lifetime.
With PopMemories, an innovative new business competing in this year's Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge and created by Saim Mohammed, a rising sophomore at the University of Oregon, you will be able to revisit those memories with a creative flair: a three-dimensional popup card that you can personalize with the photos you take abroad or wherever your memories are made.
PopMemories grew out of whimsy and a simple question. During the second term of his freshman year, Saim, an economics major, took a chance on an introduction to entrepreneurship. In that class, his instructor, Kate Harmon, asked a question that piqued his interest: If we had to make the gift-giving process better, what would we do?
Saim’s first thought was his photography. Although he doesn’t necessarily consider himself a professional, it is a pastime to give loved ones photos as gifts, sometimes in creative ways, like the holographic cards he sometimes gives to his family and friends.
“I feel so rewarded by giving these gifts,” Saim said, “I thought, why not make something better?” It was a quick leap to three-dimensional paper cards. “I thought, ‘Wow, it would be great if I could give a card and have a memory come to life where I could see it again.’”
Three-dimensional popup cards are relatively common now in card and gift shops. Many are extraordinarily complex, popups of a schooner overtaken by a Melvillian octopus, sprawling trees, or a vibrant peacock. Saim demonstrated with a card designed by Lovepop. Opening it, a cutout scene of Paris unfurled, complete with the Eiffel Tower, Parisian buildings, and a couple sharing a romantic meal on a promenade alongside flowers. In a kind of way, one could see themselves there, spreading herbed chèvre on a French baguette in the City of Lights. A charming scene, but it is incomplete to Saim.
“What I liked about these cards is the 3D aspect,” Saim said. “But what I didn’t like was that everything was generic. If you look at the people sitting there, there’s no face, there’s nothing.” The people he describes are mere silhouettes, facelessly raising glasses of wine. “I have no attachment to this. Whereas if I could place myself and my family in front of the Eiffel Tower, that would connect with me at a higher level. It would bring that memory back into my mind, to life again.”
That’s exactly what Saim envisions doing with his business. PopMemories would allow people to build their own personalized scenes into these ornate popup cards. A customer would create an account on the PopMemories website, upload their photos, and the PopMemories platform would analyze the photo to differentiate the subject and background, building a three-dimensional “cut out” that will appear as a popup in the card. Customers will be able to choose from several different renderings of the same scene to select the one they like the most.
Similar kinds of platforms that analyze photography to create art exist in services like Mosaically, which renders photomosaics from user-submitted photos. The aforementioned Lovepop, which already makes three-dimensional cards, also offers a personalization tool, but it does not personalize the actual three-dimensional popup. In this way, PopMemories represents something completely new.
Saim is working on a prototype and hopes to have one complete by the September competition, and the learning curve has been steep. Some of Saim’s colleagues in the challenge have already had years to develop their products, but Saim has been working on PopMemories for just 6 months. Although he participated in University of Oregon’s Provost Innovation Challenge, a campus-wide competition that feeds into Invent Oregon, Saim hadn’t had the time to develop a prototype of his product.
For that reason, Saim thinks, he didn’t place in the top three ranked teams. But Invent Oregon saw the potential in his idea. It awarded Saim a prize for best physical product and offered him a place in its innovator bootcamp.
It also opened access to mentorship resources to help him build momentum for his business idea.
“Through this whole process, there have been a lot of different ways that I could approach it,” Saim said, referring to the complexity of his business. “A lot of my mentors have been saying that I should license the 3D aspect to a larger company. Or some of them have been saying that I should focus on one market. There are just a lot of different alleys I could take, and I’m not sure which one I want to go for. I need help just choosing a direction.”
To date, the Invent Oregon mentors offered the help Saim needed, whether by connecting him to Oregon entrepreneur-mentors like Shashi Jain, who specializes in three-dimensional printing, or by helping Saim to hone his prototype or more closely define his customer.
“I’ve already gained so much information and resources from Invent Oregon,” he said. “My mentors, they’re all great, and they’ve provided me with a lot of information to keep myself going, especially now when I can’t even go to a workshop and try to create something or use the resources that I would’ve had at my school.”
Building a business in this time has its own unique challenges. But Saim is undeterred, and Invent Oregon played a pivotal role.
“People are still going to give cards no matter what. People are still going to print photos. This stuff will hopefully continue on for many, many years,” he said. “Personally, since I’ll be at home, I’ll have all the resources I need. I’m really grateful for that.”