Alex Sorina Moss is the kind of person who makes you feel like you need to work harder. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Canaria, a tech startup developing first- generation pre-emptive medical devices. Their first product? A wearable warning system measuring the vital stats of astronauts and miners. No big deal. Brilliant and stylish with a bit of mad scientist in her, Alex spends her spare time writing and creating art, so we’re lucky she took some time out to rock the Kendra in our Worn Different campaign. In between research, rounds of funding and moving to Brisbane, Australia, Alex chatted with us about just how differently she does life — and trust us, it’s a good story…
How’d you make the leap from a career in art and design to the NASA Space Apps hackathon — and biometrics/health technology?
Before Canaria, I was mainly an Old Master’s Art Dealer whilst continuing side jobs as an art critic and occasional photoshoot stylist/director. One day I just snapped. I peaced out super hard on my job, and called in a favour from two good friends to live in their garage for a while. I had intended to do an MA at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, but soon realised that I was far more into technology. In particular, I got obsessed with Artificial Intelligence and medical hardware.
After I got (unsurprisingly) rejected from Oxford, I buckled down and found the NASA Space Apps Hackathon, did my homework, and came up with the initial concept for Canaria. I pitched my idea in the morning, and 48 hours later I was in business. Two electronic engineers in the audience (Rob and James) wanted to work with me, and quickly became my co-founders.
Long story short, I literally taught myself a new skillset in my friends’ garage then punked my way into a crowd of NASA engineers.
Do you have any advice for young women getting started in technology, or entrepreneurship?
The only two things you really need to succeed are confidence and perseverance. This is particularly difficult for women. We’re trained to be submissive and not encouraged to do anything ‘difficult’. Here’s the thing, I rarely encounter a bad business idea. Chances are, your idea is good enough. As soon as you truly, deeply, believe this, you’ll make headway.
Sexism and racism are real problems in this industry. I can’t speak for racism, but when it comes to sexism, be prepared for it. People are going to ignore you and openly demean you, and you can’t listen to it or let it get to you. No joke — spend more time with drag queens. Having a thick skin and being able to get a crowd on your side with a witty comeback are essential skills I’ve picked up from the drag scene.
What’s a typical day in the life for you, as the CEO of a startup?
My schedule is pretty erratic. My team and I start the day with a standing meeting to exchange details on progress we’re making. From there, I could be doing technical and financial viability research, sorting out funding, planning business strategies, meeting with intellectual property lawyers, or at a conference shouting about Canaria. However, the most important task of a CEO is to listen. Listen to your team, listen to advisors, listen to what strangers have to say about what you’re working on. If you don’t listen, you won’t be able to establish what problems you’re about to face, and take steps to avoid them.
You also happen to be an artist and a writer — how do you find time for it? Any advice on how to master all of this?
Ha! Admittedly, my writing and artistic endeavours have had to die down a bit over the last year as Canaria takes off. However, it’s not so much finding time for it, as it is doing it whenever I have a chance to stay sane. I go a bit weird (weirder than normal, that is) if I don’t draw or write something for a while.
But if you’re doing something you absolutely love, you’ll find a way to make time for it. Staying in good physical shape buys you more time during the day to work on what you want to — you need less sleep, so you have a bit more time for side-projects.
If you were to add any technology to a Dr. Martens boot, how would you do it?
I would add a thin layer of a pressure-sensing textile into the interior of the boot. This would be a fairly simple IOT technology that would provide feedback to the customer and the designers at Dr. Martens about which parts of the boot are causing the most amount of damage to the wearer’s foot. Think of it as a blister-sensing system.
Talk to us about your personal style.
My current style is best summed up as ‘aspirational Bond villain’.
My major influences are Thierry Mugler (I’m a collector of his vintage pieces from the ‘80s), Alexander McQueen, Iris Van Herpen, and Comme Des Garcons — and Sadie Clayton, who crafted the designs I’m wearing in the campaign (worn with the empowering high-heeled Kendra). I try to construct an aesthetic that is defiantly powerful, sculptural, and a bit androgynous. I tend to fluctuate between the gender extremes: either milling about a fashion or tech event in 8 inch stripper heels, a tight corset, and a Thierry Mugler suit, or sprinting to meetings in a mens’ shirt, black cigarette pants, no makeup, slicked-back hair, and of course, a pair of Doc Martens.
Tell us about your first pair of Doc’s.
I was 12 years old and I remember saving up for ages for a pair of bright red Doc’s. I felt like a total punk going into the art workshop at school and drilling into random bits of wood. I recall that my chemistry teachers were most supporting of my purchase (Dr. Martens offer great foot protection in laboratory settings- I still wear them in the lab today!).
What do you stand for?
Equal opportunities for all, human rights and data privacy.