Hester Anderiesen Le Riche
CEO and founder of Tover
An engineer by training, Hester Anderiesen Le Riche found her passion during design projects that influence people’s behavior and contribute to their health. Today, she is the CEO and founder of Tover, and the creator of a pioneering cognitive stimulation system: the Tovertafel.
Anderiesen Le Riche, who has a PhD in Industrial Design Engineering from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, wrote her dissertation on “Playful Design for Activation,” which entails an evidence-based approach of developing a product service system to stimulate physical activity of people with severe dementia. During her PhD, she designed the Tovertafel: the original interactive light projection system that entices those with cognitive challenges to interact and have fun together.
Anderiesen Le Riche explained that she has always been “a beta” and that drew her to engineering.
“In primary school we built constructions that would bring a marble from point A to B, and the process of creating the puzzle to achieve that goal was exciting. My fellow mini-engineer, Haley, ended up studying Aerospace Engineering, and is still a dear friend!” she said. “I chose TUDelft for the creative and human aspect of design. The engineering always remained an intriguing element, to make your idea actually work, but I’ve also always been drawn to the human connection component.”
While she didn’t have a prominent influencer early in life, she started her studies with her first boyfriend; they shared an interest for smartly designed products.
“He taught me Corel Draw and we were creating some seriously corny 90’s graphics for his MD disks, as he was a hip hop DJ. I wasn’t overly creative as a child and definitely didn’t see myself as an artist. However, I think making those graphics and visiting the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering ignited my interest and belief that I was able to create something. The translation of a thought or idea to something real is very exciting to me,” she said.
One of her earliest design projects at school involved an assignment to create an electric nutcracker. She had just returned from nine months travelling the world — and had learned a lot — but nothing about electric motors, gear wheels, or materials.
“To be fairly honest, I did not know where to start,” she said. “Looking back, I learned some of the most important lessons from that project that I still use every day. One of the greatest being: If you ask what you don’t know, you will know it. I approached the project step by step. Every day I asked another teacher, fellow student, or Google — and every day I got a little closer to my electric nutcracker.”
Developing a product
“Product development seems to me as a winding road with many intersections,” Anderiesen Le Riche said. “A white canvas gives you endless options for what to design and any challenge in the process can be solved in different ways. I think that my strength lies with abstraction, determining the essence, formulating a design vision, taking decisions, and a few risks. I think I am the driver in design teams. I won’t be the engineer with the most technical knowledge on board, nor the creative with the craziest ideas, but I make sure that we get to our destination and on time.”
“My company, Tover, recently celebrated its North American launch as well as the release of the Tovertafel 2 — an updated technology from our startup product. Our mission has always been to create a more caring and inclusive world for those living with dementia and cognitive challenges, and this launch is an exciting next step in us achieving that goal.”
“Spearheading such an expansion, especially during a global pandemic was no easy feat, but we were successful because we have such an absolute belief in our mission. As a result of our success, we are able to keep raising the bar and reach larger goals, ultimately helping change the lives of more people around the world.”
When Anderiesen Le Riche started Tover, she had assumptions about what strong leadership would look like. She said she imagined directive, stern and hierarchic personalities leading big companies.
“But there are other leadership styles, too,” she said. “The first business book I ever read is still one of my favorites: Good to Great from Jim Collins. What he describes as ‘Level 5 Leadership’ was different from my assumptions, but closer to my values and personality. The book gave me a lot of confidence and evoked excitement that I could potentially lead a company within my own values and also gave me great lasting advice on how to grow into that role.”
Finding women in engineering
Anderiesen Le Riche said that the male-female ratio in her faculty of Industrial Design Engineering was 60-40% while in college — incredibly high for an engineering faculty.
“The only other faculty with a similar ratio was Architecture … Perhaps courses that involve more context, different disciplines, that challenge our birds-eye view and cater for a broad interest would be more appealing,” she said.
She said that while it may not be a perspective completely unique to women, she does think that she has the ability to create a personal commitment to the long-term goal of her company and its mission — and that’s so important.
“I think that is one of the main qualities that determine success in just about any growing business. With so many emerging technologies, I am also constantly looking at ways that I can apply technology and design to real world problems,” she said. “Women who are currently in the engineering industry also have a great opportunity to help lift the voices of the next generation of women engineers to help diversify the industry and bring more perspectives and experiences to the table. How can those new to engineering develop confidence in the workplace? What safeguards would you recommend to women aiming to minimize mistakes? Any comments on learning from mistakes?”
She also feels that women’s curiosity can be critical.
“Most people enjoy sharing their knowledge and ideas. When you show honest interest in other people’s expertise and knowledge, you can not only learn a lot (to design an electric nutcracker for example), but you also gain respect. I have a similar curious approach to tap into other people’s experience to fuel both my own professional growth and that of my company’s,” she said. “I feel that being a woman helped me more than it was restraining me in any way.”
Looking forward, looking back
Anderiesen Le Riche still wants to tackle inclusivity issues, something she’s very passionate about.
“There are as many barriers to our society as the number of people,” she said. “These barriers make interesting design challenges where technology and engineering could be of added value. I would love to enable those who are physically challenged to enjoy all the sports that I do, for example. Or to tackle redesigning our products for developing countries to utilize as well.”
And her younger self? What advice would she give that young woman?
“Consider all options. In the last phase of my PhD, I discovered that I might be an entrepreneur,” she said. “I never considered marketing my own product until I coincidentally met the Dutch start-up community. Their commitment, drive, enthusiasm and confidence in their ideas resonated with me and gave me all that was necessary to start my own business. A new career path opened in front of me. I felt a strong sense of belonging and recognition in a space that I hadn’t truly considered before.”
Filed Under: Women in Engineering