Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Five Questions with... Rich Sheridan, Entrepreneur in Residence

November 21, 2019

This fall we welcomed Rich Sheridan, CEO (and Chief Storyteller) of Menlo Innovations, to The Henry Ford as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Rich is our second EIR to join us in 2019, following Melvin Parsons, founder of We The People Growers Association in Ypsilanti. Hear more about Melvin's story below.


Thanks to a grant, the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship has allowed The Henry Ford to provide the next generation of entrepreneurs with hands-on learning opportunities. This initiative includes the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, a public speaker series featuring influencers in entrepreneurship, workshops and the expansion of youth programming that leverages the institution’s Archive of American Innovation to create a deep and engaging understanding of invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship from a young age. 

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Photo courtesy of Menlo Innovations.

Learn more about Rich, his background, and his passion for cultivating joy.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company, Menlo Innovations.
I am a #PureMichigan kid. I grew up in Mount Clemens, Mich., just north of Detroit and attended Chippewa Valley High School where I started learning to program computers on a teletype in 1971.  I then went to Ann Arbor and received a bachelor of science in computer science and a master of science in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. After graduation in 1982, I decided I loved Ann Arbor too much to leave and have been there ever since. I married my high school sweetheart, Carol, and we raised our three daughters (Megan, Lauren and Sarah) in a house we’ve been working on since we bought it in 1983. We have two granddaughters now and two more (twins!) on the way.

I co-founded Menlo Innovations in 2001 with James Goebel. We are a contract software design and development firm in downtown Ann Arbor with a mission to “end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.” Our goal since our founding is to return joy to technology … for the people who use the software our team creates, for the people who pay us to design and build it, and for the people who do the work.

Our team has done lots of work in the automotive industry, the healthcare industry, logistics, retail, in just about every technology and platform available.

Do you have a specific memory about your first visit to The Henry Ford?
Growing up in Clinton Township (near Mount Clemens), there was a program offered every summer that I believe they called Summer Recreation. Most of the activities were at the elementary school I attended. They also offered field trips and once a summer they took us to Greenfield Village. I loved it every time I went. My specific memories include rock candy (!), the steam engine train, the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, the horse-drawn carriages, the Model-T fleet, the blacksmith shop, the glassblowing, and of course, the Menlo Park lab of Thomas Edison.

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Inside Menlo Laboratory.

What inspires your most about Thomas Edison and his Menlo Laboratory?

As a kid, I got goosebumps whenever I entered that lab. I’m not even sure if I knew what had actually happened there. I could sense the human energy that existed there, the camaraderie, the inventiveness, and the excitement of creating things that had a chance to change the world. I loved the fact that there was a “lab” that was wide open and filled with such fascinating equipment, above a machine shop. My favorites toys as a kid were Erector sets, electrical experimentation kits, LEGO blocks, chemistry sets, and a microscope. In my mind’s eye, I saw all of this at work in this lab and this was a place that adults worked! I wanted that in my own work life.

What have you been working on with The Henry Ford as our EIR? What excites you most about your time here?
The Henry Ford wants to ensure they offer practical relevance to the problems we face in our world today. Businesses and engineers at those businesses have the opportunity to create great impact. The adults running those firms and working there need inspiration (just like we kids did). Businesses today need creativity, imagination, invention and innovation more now than ever. What better place to inspire and begin such a journey than The Henry Ford.

My project is to help the amazing team at The Henry Ford imagine an innovation space that businesses can use to bring their teams, their ideas, and perhaps even their customers to play, explore, invent and ideate. The space itself will be right in the middle of the museum. Thus, teams who use that space will be able to use the museum as a sort of lab for creating, drawing important lessons from the past and they ideate about the future. As William Pretzer said in his book Working at Inventing, “Henry Ford’s goal was to create a museum that would not only record the past but would shape the future as well. It would use the past to encourage visitors, especially the young, to aspire great achievements of their own.” It certainly worked for me!

Why is it important to put joy into your work every day?
I have to admit, my desire to create Menlo Innovations was a selfish one. I wanted to create a workplace I wanted to come to every day, with energy, enthusiasm and inspiration. The beautiful thing is that this kind of environment is contagious. We actually get over 3,000 visitors every year who come from all over the world just to see how we do what we do. They can feel the energy of the place and we end up talking about the “business value of joy.” The visitors often ask, “Why is joy so important?” I present them with a rhetorical question: “Imagine half of my team had joy and the other half didn’t? Which half would you want working on your project?” Everyone chooses the joyful half (of course!). I then ask them why?

“They’d be more productive.”

“They’d care more about the outcome.”

“They’d produce higher quality.”

“They’d be easier to work with.”

There is, in fact, tangible business value to joy. We know this. Thomas Edison knew this. Henry Ford knew this. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to get on board.

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