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Interview

Impact Design Entrepreneurs: Justin Chambers

Justin Chambers is a PhD Candidate in Mechanical Engineering with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from West Virginia University. After graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2012, Mr. Chambers continued his work as a NanoSAFE Graduate Fellow and is currently conducting research and working on new ventures.  Mr. Chambers has founded two companies, plays a role in other partnerships, and supports innovative efforts at West Virginia University. More specifically, as President of WindPax LLC, a portable wind turbine company, he aims to bring portable energy to everyone around the world. Mr. Chambers believes that he can create his future and looks forward to working on new technologies, start-up ventures and enterprise development. WindPax LLC is part of the Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Program, which helps entrepreneurs and startups making a positive impact in the world get to market faster through access to free software, training, events, and co-marketing opportunities.


Please tell us about your journey from being a mechanical engineering student at the University of West Virginia to the inventor and founder of WindPax.  What made you interested in wind turbine technology and renewable energy, and gave you the impetus to start your own business?

As a senior-year mechanical engineering student, along with my senior advisor, we envisioned a personal wind turbine that outdoor enthusiasts, first responders, and military personnel could carry anywhere. At first, all we wanted to do was reduce the number of batteries that people had to carry into the field.  With a collapsible wind turbine, they could recharge the same set of batteries every night.

We did a lot of work with wind turbine technologies here at the university and we thought if we could take this knowledge and use it to design a wind turbine that could collapse and be small enough to be carried on the go, then we could use them to charge devices and accessories and reduce the amount of batteries we needed to carry. That’s when we started working on the collapsible wind turbine, one that could be easily collapsed and erected for portable power on the go.  

After founding Windpax and exploring potential applications for the technology, we soon realized that perhaps the most meaningful opportunity of all lay in the developing world, where roughly one fifth of the earth’s population lives without access to electricity. Through Windpax, we can deliver lightweight, affordable wind turbines to people in remote areas of the developing world. Available in a 25 watt configuration, the portable Wind turbines can supply enough electricity to power LED lights and small electronic devices, such as GPS systems and cell phones.  

With such a profound opportunity and possible impact, it is hard not to be interested in pursuing such a venture.  

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WindPax allows people to harness the power of the wind wherever they go, to charge devices such as phones and cameras.

What was your design process like and what is the most challenging part of the design process for you?
Product development is a fun and exciting process. It does come with its ups and downs.  Anytime you develop a new product, you have to test and refine continuously.  This mean multiple prototypes, many failures and successes. The most challenging part of design is getting the design to feel “right.”  This can be very elusive, difficult to describe, and is more of a feeling to the designers and engineers.  There are many trade-offs and adjustments that are needed, which can be challenging, but when it gets close you can feel it.  After many interactions and adjustments, you will get closer and closer.  It is very important not to be hindered during this process and to push the product out and keep iterating.

This is the typical process: Ideation, Design, Build, Test, Iterate 

My favorite part of design is the ability to be creative.  How amazing is it to design and build things that are your own creations and can’t be found or bought in the market?  Additionally, how cool is it that your design might be used by others or can be a solution to major problems in the world?

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Sketch of the WindPax wind turbine.

What skills have you learned since college that have helped you in your journey as an entrepreneur?

I’ve learned how to see the big picture, how all the pieces need to come together and still go into detail in each piece and do the work.  To see the critical steps that need to be taken to get an invention into the hands of others, turning it into an innovation.  

How has Autodesk Fusion 360 helped you in creating your designs?  What features and aspects of the software have helped you tackle design challenges?
All of the designs were initially started using Autodesk Inventor, which I used for quite some time.  We then switched to Fusion 360.  All of our previous models easily imported into Fusion.  Fusion 360 provides us with a centrally located place to work on designs and models. We use it as a tool to communicate with our manufacturer on parts/configurations and assemblies using the animation features.  We can take an assembly and animate it from an exploded view to the complete product showing how each piece is assembled.  We are able to use the software to create visual ads for marketing material, instructional materials and more.  

With Fusion 360 we can also create free form designs on our products to give a better look and feel to the end consumer that was not traditionally available with solid modeling products. The collaboration tools and cloud based storage allow our team to efficiently work together on designs and prototypes from anywhere.  As a start-up, you typically do not have a centralized office and this is where the Autodesk 360 packages really shine. With Fusion 360, we can design and test models thoroughly within the program to reduce prototype iteration and manufacturing issues. 

What is your hope for the future of WindPax?  Are there any other businesses or products you dream of creating?
We have a great vision for WindPax that we are pursuing.  Within a year we plan to be supplying wind turbines to outdoorsmen, recreation enthusiasts, and remote areas to charge and run small devices. Within three years we plan to be supplying wind turbines to the 1.5 billion people without electricity in developing countries. In five years, we would like to be supplying the entire recreational market with portable wind turbines. By 2020, we have a goal of distributing over one million wind turbines to developing countries.  

We want our wind turbines to empower people in the developing world, rather than just supply them with a product.  Providing power day and night is just the first step. Using the turbines, people in remote areas of the developing world can power LED lights and charge small electronic equipment, such as cell phones and GPS devices. By introducing power, we’re also introducing new useful technology that people can use to better their lives.

Because the WindPax design is relatively simple, we also hope to empower people in the developing world to assemble and distribute wind turbines in remote areas of the developing world. This will create local jobs in manufacturing and distribution, as well as a new energy economy, in areas where none exist at the moment.

By enlisting local support, we also believe that it will be possible to spread the WindPax solution to more remote and hard-to-reach areas.

As entrepreneurs of course we have new ideas and businesses that we would like to pursue and we are keeping the pipeline full, but it is very important at this time to keep focused on our mission and carry it through.

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Portable wind turbine technology will have big impact both for recreation and for those in the developing world who live without reliable access to electricity.

What advice would you give to other young designers and entrepreneurs?

As young engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, etc. we have the energy, skills, talents and passion to do something great.  These attributes can be used to improve the things around us, help others, as well as reinvent devices and the way things are done. Therefore, we have a tremendous opportunity to improve the world around us and make it a better place.