Board of Directors Profile: Marcelino Alvarez

Haley Walker
Haley Walker
Communications Director for The Freshwater Trust

In December, Marcelino Alvarez joined The Freshwater Trust’s board of directors. Alvarez is the founder and CEO of Uncorked Studios, a Portland-based design and engineering firm that builds connected products for the digital and physical world. Prior to Uncorked, he served as Executive Interactive Producer at Wieden+Kennedy Portland, where he worked on Old Spice, Electronic Arts, Laika, and Nike accounts. He was the producer behind a message-printing robot in France and a website that uses citizen science to identify nuclear radiation levels in Japan. This advertising veteran’s penchant for creative problem solving has made him a valuable ally in The Freshwater Trust’s efforts to change the course of freshwater conservation and restoration with new tools and technologies.

Where did the idea for Uncorked Studios come from? 

Years ago when I worked in advertising, I partnered with Livestrong and Nike on what ultimately would be the coolest thing I’d ever do in advertising.

Essentially we created a street printer where people could tweet or text it a message of hope or inspiration and the Chalkbot would print their message on the road along the Tour de France.

It looked more like a prototype than a finished product, and though it was held together with duct tape, it worked. I realized that I was drawn to the intersection of physical products, technology, and causes bigger than our own. Around that time, Wieden+Kennedy had launched an incubator called PIE (short for the Portland Incubator Experiment.) I decided to join that in pursuit of our mission. So Uncorked was actually started in W+K’s basement.

Has there been a project at Uncorked that’s lived up to the Chalkbot?

In 2011, after the Fukushima earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster, we started thinking about the role data could play to understand whether or not anyone in Japan (or us living on the West coast of the U.S.) should be concerned.

We believed that citizen science could be used to collect information on radiation and present a clearer picture. I sent a sketch to my colleague, who turned it into a design, which we developed into a website a few days later. One of our collaborators on that project wrote it up on Boing Boing, and the project took off. That site, Safecast, still exists to this day.

Since then there have have been many things I’m proud of that our team has worked on, but that was the first time the Uncorked team launched something impactful.

How do you foster creativity at Uncorked?

I think you have to give people the space and the time to be creative and explore open-ended questions. Part of moving into the building that we’re in now was about making sure that people had the space to learn and explore new things. Of course, some weeks or months you’ll be more slammed than others, but we try and encourage people to take a class or spend some time in a prototype lab.

I got this crazy contraption in my mailbox this Christmas from Uncorked. Tell me about what that was.

Well, we always have this dilemma about what we’re going to send out for holiday gifts. Last year, we created a hot sauce called “Lit,” and we didn’t know if we could top that. Everyone loved it. Then, the main designer who was on this holiday gift team created these spinners that he’d use to make decisions and he made one for the team to decide where they were going to go to lunch. I think the team just had a look at it and said something like, “Hey, what about this?” What you eat for lunch is a decision that’s made by everyone no matter where you are. After that, it was a matter of getting them produced. I think we ended up making about 100 of them.  

 How did you first learn about The Freshwater Trust?

I met Alex Johnson initially at a Duke University alumni event. I got the general overview at that point and then later down the line I learned a little more. Then, Nick Parish, who I work with at Uncorked, got involved with TFT’s Headwaters Council. We had this idea to start doing two-day workshops called Semio Summits to help businesses start fleshing out their ideas. We thought we would test this idea on nonprofits first and Nick suggested bringing The Freshwater Trust in. Through that process, I learned a lot about their challenges and continued to stay engaged.

What inspires you about TFT & what’s one thing everyone should know about TFT?

I’m inspired by TFT’s mission. As a new parent, I’m becoming increasingly aware of the theme of legacy, particularly as it pertains to the world that we leave behind.

I want my children to enjoy the outdoors as much as I was able to growing up. For me, TFT is an organization that is creating that legacy for many generations of people through a unique blend of advocacy, technology, and partnership.

I think everyone should know about that blend – it’s TFT’s special sauce. In order to do that, you need a combination of storytelling and figuring out how to create new ways to measure environmental impact in a way that people can relate to and understand. Also, TFT has managed to show that conservation doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. And in a world where so many things are, that’s refreshing.

If you were a fish, what would you be and why?

A marlin. I’ve always been a fan of Hemingway’s tale “The Old Man and the Sea,” and in my fishing adventures, I’ve never managed to see one. I’m also a huge baseball fan, and my home team are the Miami Marlins.

What’s one surprising fact you recently learned?

I recently learned that early programming punch card technology was based on old weaving loom technology.

If we were going to ask your friends to tell us a great story about you, what do you think they’d say?

I bet my high school friends would want to tell you all about the pranks we played.

Tell us about a time you failed.

Before Uncorked, I tried a similar concept with some friends and it tanked. We learned a lot about managing expectations and the importance of contracts and just a lot of things that could go wrong.

But out of the ashes, Uncorked was born so I guess it’s a lesson that even in the midst of failure, big and good things can still happen.

What do you work toward in your free time?

Right now, it’s parenting. Spending time with my son and daughter. But I’ve always really enjoyed photography, boating, and fishing and so when parenting allows, you’ll find me doing one of those things.

What’s your home river?

The Intracoastal Waterway in Florida. It’s probably the closest river-like thing I grew up with.

February 12, 2018


#data    #environmental protection    #Portland    

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