November 27, 2015 4:00 am

Surface and Sequence: Microsoft helps entrepreneur succeed

Ariela Suster uses the Surface Pro tablet to create, collaborate, and help run Sequence, her accessories business that employs at-risk youth in El Salvador.

Ariela working on her Surface Pro 4 in her New York City studio.

In light of tomorrow’s Small Business Saturday, an annual day in the U.S. that encourages holiday shoppers to shop at small businesses, let’s take a closer look at how one entrepreneur runs her business and makes a difference with the help of technology.

As a child growing up in El Salvador, Ariela Suster was no stranger to violence. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, the small, beautiful Central American country was torn apart by civil war.

This former fashion-industry editor is now helping to re-build El Salvador’s next generation via Sequence, a business with the mission to disrupt the cycle of violence that limits youth living in an at-risk community in El Salvador by employing and empowering them.

“People join the path of violence because of lack of opportunity and lack of belonging,” Ariela said. “So I use the fashion platform as a means to address the issue of violence.”

One of her primary business tools is her Surface Pro that Ariela was given as part of the Microsoft collaboration a Surface and Lumia. For Ariela, who splits her time between New York City and El Salvador, she uses the tablet to dream up new designs and collaborate with her artisans via OneNote and Drive, talk with them daily on Skype, and create PowerPoint presentations about her collections, among other tasks.

Ariela makes changes to jewelry design using her Surface.

For example, when she creates a “mood board” for a new collection, Ariela collects inspiring images from around the Web and adds notes with her Surface Pen. She’ll share those images with her team in El Salvador via OneDrive, and then they can add their own photos. It’s a truly collaborative process.

Once Ariela begins to finalize new bracelet designs, she can easily share changes to color or pattern via OneNote.

Better collaboration through technology

It wasn’t always this easy. Before she started using Surface, communicating changes was at times difficult: For example, the design she asked for may not end up being the same one the artisans produced.

“Now, I just give them a picture with my little notes around it,” Ariela said. “And we can continue to collaborate; I can continue to make color changes even if I’m not there in El Salvador with them.”

Not only does Surface help capture inspiration and make collaboration easier, the tablet has also made Ariela’s workflow more effective.

The lightness and small footprint of Surface means it’s easy to transport and work on the go, whether she’s on a plane, in her office in New York, or at home in El Salvador.

Ariela working on her Surface at an outdoor restaurant.

“I’m so pressed for time and I travel a lot, and this makes it easy for me to get my work done no matter where I am,” she said.

Ariela also used to scribble notes about various designs on scraps of paper, which she would then scan to share them with her team.

“With Surface, I just put them all into one place,” she said. “It’s so easy.”

Using Surface has been so successful that Ariela recently created an employee-led technology team to better learn how Surface and other tech devices (such as Microsoft Lumia) can help them even more, such as by creating a series of training videos.

“Surface has so many different features and very easy to use, so this is a very exciting process for us,” Ariela said.

Go here to check out the Sequence X Microsoft collaboration, which features bracelets embedded with an NFC chip. When you tap the bracelet on the back of your smartphone, your phone will play a short video* that shows how the bracelets were made—a direct link on how your purchase affects the lives of at-risk youth in El Salvador.

Are you inspired by Ariela’s story? Let us know on Twitter via @Surface.

*This NFC feature works with most Lumia and Android phones.

Updated December 12, 2015 10:30 am