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Making the impossible possible in the here and now

May 24, 2022

Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible Labs, spoke at the Alltech ONE Conference, held May 22 - 24, 2022. 

For evergreen optimists like Mick Ebeling, barriers, though perhaps initially intimidating, are only meant to be overcome, as soon as possible — the sooner, the better. Ebeling’s company, Not Impossible Labs, was born of necessity out of a chance meeting with the family of a locally renowned street artist known as Tempt One.

The start of something amazing

Tempt was suffering from the debilitating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and had lost the ability to move any part of his body aside from his eyes. His family was desperate for the chance to effectively communicate with him again.

When Ebeling learned of this, he asked them why Tempt didn’t have a speech-generating device (SGD) like the one used by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Tempt’s brother informed him that owning such a device was only a possibility if you were wealthy (they weren’t) or had excellent insurance (they didn’t).

So, Ebeling — a successful video producer and entrepreneur — offered to buy Tempt an SGD. Naturally, the family was thrilled, and Ebeling, admittedly a bit caught up in the moment, told them he would also figure out a way for Tempt to draw again.

Although they were elated, Ebeling was initially worried he had overpromised. Despite this, he began to set things into motion, inviting a proclaimed team of “misfit geniuses and mad scientists” from around the world to live in his home while they worked on a solution, and the EyeWriter was born. It was truly life-changing, giving Tempt the ability to draw for the first time in seven years.

Ebeling and his team quickly made plans to open-source the technology associated with the EyeWriter, initially thinking that they’d simply go back to their regular lives afterward. But then, something incredible happened: Time Magazine named the EyeWriter a Top 50 invention of 2010. The Museum of Modern Art asked to put it on display. Award after award started coming in. And Ebeling realized that he could do more to help others in need.

Commit, then figure it out

Ebeling is on a mission to provide “technology for the sake of humanity.” His mantra? “Commit, then figure it out.” Working with a unique team of innovative thinkers, doers and creators, Ebeling’s Not Impossible Labs designs devices to better the world by giving accessibility to everyone.

Driven by the belief that “impossible is a fallacy,” Ebeling began to seek out other ways to help the disabled. And so, Project Daniel — initiated by the story of a 12-year-old Sudanese boy who lost his arms to amputation following a bombing near the field where he was tending his family’s animals — came to life.

Worried about being a burden to his family, young Daniel sadly admitted he would rather be dead than alive without arms. Upon hearing this story, Ebeling, who had a 12-year-old son of his own, realized that he had to solve this problem. So, the Not Impossible team set to work and, just a short while later, flew to an active war zone in Sudan, armed with 3D printers, laptops, spools of duct tape and more — all with the goal of building Daniel some arms.

This concept had been hatched on July 11, and just four months later, Daniel was able to feed himself for the first time in two years.

The Not Impossible team went on to create the first prosthetics laboratories powered by 3D printers. Most prosthetic arms cost around $15,000; Daniel’s cost $100. As Time Magazine said, “It’s hard to imagine any other technology doing more to make the world a better place.”

Enlightened capitalism

Ebeling reached out to Intel to ask for funding to keep Project Daniel going. They agreed and provided a modest amount in comparison to what they’d spent on other marketing and branding projects.

And yet, the thing that ended up doing the most for the company was that little investment in doing good. This led Ebeling to realize that doing good is — quite simply — good. It’s good for companies. It’s good for branding. It’s good for growth — and it’s a great business strategy.

The thing is that people want to make a difference. They want to do more. As Ebeling pointed out, “What have we learned in the last two years? It’s reminded us that life is fragile and that we could disappear, just like that.”

Many are re-evaluating their priorities and are seeking ways to make an impact in their local communities and beyond. So, Ebeling challenged the audience to consider what they could do for others.

“Will you help create advantages?” he asked.  “[Because the reality is] when the world benefits, your business benefits. Everybody benefits. This is how you create [meaningful] change. This is [known as] enlightened capitalism.”

Tackling future absurdities

Since the inception of the EyeWriter and Project Daniel, the Not Impossible team has gone on to design several other astounding inventions that have changed the lives of many, including — but not limited to — a blind skateboarder, a group of deaf music lovers and a former pioneering avant-garde jazz pianist afflicted by the debilitating tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ebeling began to think about how big a problem food insecurity is, even in affluent countries like the United States.

“[Over] 50 million Americans struggle daily to put food on the table,” he noted. “One in five kids in America struggles with food insecurity. This is absurd. Why are people going hungry? This makes no sense. We are a wealthy country. We have plenty of food. [I realized] this is a supply chain issue.”

So, what happened next? You (probably) guessed it. The Not Impossible team created a solution known as Bento, a platform designed to connect people with readily accessible, nutritious, pre-paid meals from nearby restaurants in a stigma-free manner, all through discreet text messaging. And Time Magazine once again recognized Not Impossible on their best inventions list, making it the only company to ever win that award twice.

The why behind the try

As Ebeling closed, he remarked, “So, why do we do this? Why do we pull this stuff off? Because we shouldn’t! We don’t have the degrees or the credentials or the diplomas. There is nothing in who we are that drives us to do this aside from beautiful, limitless naivete. We simply didn’t get the memo that we weren’t supposed to be able to do this or pull this off.”

“What are you going to do with the blessing of your life?” he continued. “You won the lottery! Are you going to keep it to yourself? Or are you going to try to make this world a little bit better in the short, brief amount of time that you’re here? The one question I want to ask you to consider as you go back to your lives later this week is, ‘Who is your one? Who is the one person in your life that, if you think about it, you could help? Who is your Daniel?’”

This. This is how we can work together to make the world a better place. So, don’t wait. Start now. As Not Impossible has proven many times over, even a little effort backed by a passionate purpose can go a long, long way.

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