Editor's Note: LovePop is a winner of Inc.'s 2017 Design Awards, our annual recognition of entrepreneurs using design to build great companies, for "Category Reinvention."

The duo behind the recent greeting-card revival are--naval architects?

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In 2014, Wombi Rose and John Wise found themselves traveling in Asia on a Harvard Business School trip. The two had met nearly a decade earlier studying ship architecture. Wise had gone on to a boat-building startup in Louisiana, while Rose worked for McKinsey in Australia, and now the two wanted to start a company--maybe in fish farming or natural gas. But in Vietnam, "we came across this style of card that used kirigami, a kind of origami that cuts the paper rather than just folding it," says Wise. Suddenly, the engineers' unlikely business idea clicked: Marry their technical backgrounds with this handcrafted art form.

One month later, Lovepop was born. Now, the Boston-based 3-D-greeting-card company is infusing its art-meets-science approach into the declining $7 billion U.S. industry long dominated by Hallmark. While the pop-up cards are filled with whimsy, building them is a highly technical feat, using the same design software that naval architects use to build ships.


"When you design a ship, you're taking a complex 3-D shape, and you have to figure out how to define that shape," says Rose. "You slice it into planes and draw out where those planes intersect. In production, you put those pieces next to one another and weld them together. The card is the same in miniature--instead of steel, it's paper, and instead of welding, it's flaps and tabs and a little glue."

Bringing precision to a nonscientific industry is paying off. Since its appearance on Shark Tank in 2015, which convinced Kevin O'Leary to invest, Lovepop has grown to 30 employees and $6.7 million in revenue. Its trademarked process--dubbed Slicegami--has produced a catalog of more than 200 cards, many requested by Lovepop's most dedicated fans. "When we release a new card"--often on Facebook Live--"there are always people who have been waiting for that design," says Rose.