Inkbox, a Toronto-based startup, is redefining the world of tattoos by providing people with a new avenue to display their individuality and creativity. The company’s plant-based, cruelty-free For Now Ink™ lasts 1-2 weeks on your skin and fades as your skin naturally regenerates. Inkbox’s clients get super realistic, commitment-free tattoos that are easy-to-apply. Carlos Fiel (ChemE 2T0), hopes to grow the company into an industry leader.
Although the work may not require solving triple integrals or Laplace transforms, the foundations of chemical engineering, such as fluid dynamics and mass/energy balances, have been instrumental in scoping out solutions at Inkbox.
This Q&A is a story about how a chemical engineering and applied chemistry degree from U of T prepared Carlos to take on a challenge in a completely different field, launch a new successful career, and inspired him to give back.
What led to your decision to study chemical engineering?
I really loved chemistry and physics in high school. Having always been torn between medicine and engineering, I attended the open house for the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at U of T and immediately grew to love the community. The opportunity to broaden horizons with the variety of minors and skills learned within the program really allows for people to take their interests and make a career out of it. Also, I’m a big nerd who thinks chemistry and engineering are cool!
What led you to choose chemical engineering at U of T?
It was really the people and community that sold me. The pride that people displayed in being a part of ChemE and Skule was something I found so interesting that I knew I wanted to be a part of this group. Between seeing everyone support each other and the fun they were having in their student groups, it looked like the place for fun between all the studying. I also knew former ChemE students who took their education and applied it to a variety of fields including law, medical, consulting, manufacturing, and business. This variety is so attractive because even though everyone has a 10-year plan, things change, but the skills gained from ChemE keeps us prepared.
Describe your ChemE journey?
My ChemE journey was a rollercoaster. I always loved the ChemE community and put as much effort into it as I did into school. I survived my first year, but I needed to repeat my second year. After repeating my second year, I passed the rest of my courses thanks to all the support from my friends at ChemE. Having to redo a year pushed me to my limits and I definitely would not have succeeded had I gone through it all alone.
What was your most memorable ChemE/Skule moment?
Oh so many… My first time firing Ye Olde Mighty Skule Cannon surrounded by my friends of 4+ years. Talking to everyone as I opened and closed Godiva Week as Blue and Gold Co-Chair along with the myriad of Pride Parades. All the F!rosh Weeks and late night builds with friends…
I think the one thing that made all those really great memories standout, was the set of memories that were the exact opposite.
Having to repeat my second year, I needed to make new friends from my new cohort while keeping up with schoolwork amidst my other responsibilities. I remember dreading waiting for my grades but I managed with the help of new and old friends, and that allowed me to make all the subsequent memorable moments happen.
Who inspired you the most at ChemE/Skule?
The two people who I really defined as role models in my ChemE years were Peter Murphy (ChemE 1T5+PEY, MASc 1T9) and Elizabeth de Roode (ChemE 1T7). Peter was the first ChemE student I ever met, having led me through the labs during the open house and always being there for guidance no matter what stage I was at in my ChemE career. Elizabeth has also had the same effect on me, because she was always there to answer any questions I had about ChemE or Skule. Both are also incredibly supportive friends who would do anything for their friends. They inspired me to continue on with my studies even when I was feeling burnt out
Describe your career path after graduating? What led/inspired/motivated you to start Inkbox?
Immediately after graduation, I began working at Apotex. I continued in the same field from my PEY Co-op in the pharmaceutical world, to commission new equipment and work on process improvements. I really enjoyed the impact I was able to have as part of a pharmaceutical company working in generics, and was able to leave work with a sense of having really made a positive contribution to the world.
After joining Inkbox as a Process Manufacturing Engineer, I have the same feelings but with a different product. This Toronto startup is really something else because we are redefining the word tattoo and giving people a new avenue to display their individuality, creativity, and overall identity. Not only is the product very cool, but it is also new, which creates a whole new set of avenues for process engineering that is exciting on its own. Being able to help this company grow as a leader in the industry is a dream opportunity.
How does your education from ChemE relate to your work now? Are you applying what you’ve learned?
The ChemE education has been useful for dealing with a mass of projects and applying creative solutions to problems. Balancing deadlines and priorities are something that comes with every job regardless of corporate or startup. And though I might not be doing triple integrals or laplace transforms as part of everyday work, some foundations of chemical engineering such as fluid dynamics, electrochemistry, (in)organic chemistry, and mass/energy balances have all been vital in understanding problems and scoping out solutions for my current position. I’ve also been lucky enough to apply a good amount of math from these and other areas to provide quantifiable data that could then be used for metrics related to new custom equipment or manufacturing processes.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
My greatest professional achievement is tough. On one hand it is every time I was able to help release a product as part of my time working in pharmaceutical engineering. The various testing that went on in the background was always worth it to release new pharmaceuticals that could help people worldwide. Now that I work with Inkbox, I am excited to be helping commission a new line in Europe that will help the Inkbox brand reach more international clients wanting to define their image.
But my greatest personal professional achievement has to be starting my own scholarship for the University of Toronto. The Leigh-McNeil Taboika Spirit of Godiva Scholarship was made to honour those who are displaying the values of making Skule a welcome environment and keeping the student community of Skule together and thriving. Skule was always a cornerstone of my university experience, and being able to give back is something I wanted to do since I graduated.
What advice would you give to current ChemE students?
Make mistakes. Get back up. Have fun.
I would not have passed school without Skule. You are in a place where you can develop all the skills you want. Yes, the academics are hard; yes, the schedule is grueling; yes, there are going to be times where souls get crushed either by problem sets or social interactions. I’ve found that a defining trait of a good engineer is when people trust you to be diligent and not have to double check your work. But equally important to that is the trait of a good person which is getting up after you get knocked down. U of T Engineering is tough, but friendships formed here are resilient. You can lean on friends who will always be there, because they know you’d do the same for them.