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Flexible Thinking

Courtesy Joby

By Brian Andrew

Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. JoeBen Bevirt was raised without electricity on a commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains by his parents and their hippie friends, known as the Merry Pranksters.

Life on the commune “instilled in me a core curiosity in how things work and how to create,” says Bevirt, 35, via e-mail from China. “Living off the grid, I learned there are alternative ways for us to live with nature and to power our society.”

At Stanford, Bevirt, MS ’97, took a course called Integrated Design for Marketing and Manufacturability, a precursor to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. The students were charged with designing a better tabletop tripod. Bevirt’s group designed one with flexible legs that they called the Gorillapod.

After graduation, Bevirt worked as director of engineering at Incyte Pharmaceuticals and founded a company to develop instruments and robots for the life sciences. Then in 2004, he began refining the Gorillapod concept and founded Joby in 2005 to commercialize it.

With eight multidirectional joints per leg, the Gorillapod can secure compact digital cameras to virtually any surface, including jagged rocks and tree branches. The Consumer Electronics Association named the Gorillapod a 2007 International CES Innovations Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.

Recently, Bevirt has turned his attention to renewable energy. Joby is in the early stages of developing technology to harness the power of the jet stream to offer clean, reliable energy at low prices. The current prototypes, which Bevirt refers to as “flying windmills,” have been tested around Santa Cruz and show promising results.

BRIAN ANDREW is Class of ’09.

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