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Natalie Ashton | Electric Iris

You may have heard Natalie's name as the 2022 co-winner of The Gauntlet - a local competition for entrepreneurs who are looking to take their business to the next level.

She was born and raised in Nashville, TN and moved to the Star City ten years ago after marrying a Roanoke native.

Her professional career has included time in both accounting and the hospitality industry. Though I get the sense she is someone with endless creativity bubbling just below the surface - waiting for an opportunity to show itself! One of her favorite outlets is attending ComiCons (conventions for fans of comic book culture) in full cosplay regalia. She loves the process of designing her stunning head-to-toe looks and often chooses the current villainess-du-jour as her alter ego for the day.

This love of designing costumes was what initially led her to 3D printing. She wanted to try her hand at creating authentic looking accessories to complete her elaborate creations. It was a great success!

Then COVID hit. ComiCons stopped happening. Her shiny new 3D printer was sitting around without a purpose.

With the unexpected gift of extra time, her creative wheels started turning. Her accountant sensibilities set a goal of trying to sell a few designs so that the printer could start to pay for itself.

Trying to figure out where there was a need that she could potentially meet, she looked to another branch of her interests, animals, for a little customer discovery research. Through chatting with fellow chicken keepers at local swaps, she was inspired to try and solve a longstanding issue among them: the relatively archaic design of egg incubators. Sure, they worked, but they were touchy, had an unpredictable success rate, were not intuitive to use, didn't easily accommodate for different sized eggs, needed “babysitting” to catch fluctuations in humidity/temperature/etc…. Natalie knew there must be a way to make them more user-friendly with the aid of modern technology, so she did!

The resulting egg turner (Phase One of her improvement plan) was heartily embraced, and orders started pouring in faster than she could fill them! However, her eyes were set on the ultimate goal of revamping the entire incubator technology.

Phase Two, creating smart sensors that would work in existing incubators, was the idea that catapulted her business, Electric Iris, to the top of The Gauntlet's leaderboard, and she has been busy with development ever since. Natalie's hope is to bring them to market by the end of this year.

In the meantime, to supplement the egg turner business (which is seasonal), she has curated a line of minimalist home decor that she prints on demand right here in rural Virginia with shipping available worldwide. This ever-growing branch of her business is called Big Lick Mercantile. The plastics her printers use are plant based and sourced from corn grown in Nebraska, which means her products are recyclable, sustainable, and supporting other US-based businesses!

Check out her beautiful designs below, and if you happen to know any poultry farmers, please pass along the game changing technology that is: Electric Iris.

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