If you’re going to spend 48 hours away from home inventing a new product, you want to make sure you have the right tools.
That’s why Brian Hager of Lenexa rented a U-Haul box truck and turned it into a very organized mobile garage, right down to the pegboard with wrenches hanging off of it taken from his actual garage.
Hager, one of 46 “makers” spread across 13 teams, also brought a tent to the Make48 event at Union Station over the weekend, but it was full of equipment, too. When he slept, it was on a cot in the truck.
That was one approach. On the other end of the spectrum was the team from Ontario, Canada, Ruth Church and Simon Langler, who flew here with just one small carry-on between them. Good thing they got Make48 T-shirts to wear.
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The first-of-its-kind “invent-a-thon,” hosted by the Inventors Center of Kansas City, included a speakers summit on Friday, but the 48 hours didn’t start until 4:30 p.m. that day. That’s when the teams, of two to four people each, were given the theme of the products they would invent.
They’d then have until 4:30 p.m. Sunday to come up with a rough prototype they would pitch to a panel of judges.
The theme turned out to be … the kitchen.
“In general, it’s solving common, everyday problems that people have in the kitchen,” said Scott Warren, who owns a local electronics manufacturing firm called Hannesco, one of the event’s 36 sponsors. (The Handy Camel, a product development company known for a bag clip that doubles as a handle, was the competition’s major sponsor.)
Teams did get some suggestions within that broad category, like new kinds of peelers, lighting, portion control, staying ahead of bacteria and keeping silverware from falling off a plate.
Is that last one really a big problem?
Inventor/coach Stephen Key from Lake Tahoe, Nev., one of the judges and author of the book “One Simple Idea,” said he could see it. Like, say, at a backyard cookout where you’re trying to juggle a loaded plate and your drink and that pesky fork and knife.
Two of the teams were made up of University of Kansas students, one of which was designing a product that had something to do with liquids. (Make48 organizers asked us not to give too much away because some products conceived over the weekend could be clever enough to license.)
On the Jayhawk Innovation team’s table in a Science City classroom sat a gallon jug of milk with some kind of spout on it. On a laptop near the cow juice, a PowerPoint presentation with these words on the screen: “6,500,000,000 Gallons of Milk.”
The team brainstormed dozens of ideas — like a Febreze-spraying drone and a countertop version of the Roomba vacuum — even though the three guys in the group were initially dismayed at hearing the word “kitchen.”
“The boys were not too excited,” said team member Joel Hodgdon, a business marketing and management major. “How much do we cook besides ramen?”
By late afternoon Saturday, 24 hours in, they’d narrowed the field to three or four product ideas, but a mock review panel advised against their No. 1, so the team went with No. 2. The spout, or whatever.
By early Sunday afternoon, it was clear that some of the 13 teams’ prototypes would actually work, “which is phenomenal in 48 hours,” event director Mindy Hart said.
Some makers looked well-rested as they neared zero hour. Some, not so much. Most teams were also creating videos to accompany their presentations.
Hager, the guy who brought his garage, showed off his team’s sorta-working kitchen sink, complete with recirculating water and a simulated garbage disposal, set up on a makeshift counter outside. Their big idea had something to do with the disposal.
And although that team didn’t want for anything, Make48 and Union Station’s Maker Studio provided participants with plenty of tools, equipment (including a dozen 3-D printers) and assistance from 10 “tool techs.” Bonus: Saturday morning, teams boarded a bus for a Westlake Ace Hardware in Overland Park to spend $250 gift cards on whatever materials they couldn’t find at Union Station.
The three top teams were to receive trophies and, more important, guidance on such topics as funding and marketing. Which is important when you lack the $50,000 it could take to make the mold or tool you need for your prototype, Hart said.
Make48 organizers are hoping to take the invent-something-in-two-days concept to three to five other cities next year and to go international within three years.
As for the innovations cooked up in Kansas City over the weekend …
“If several of them don’t make it to market, it will be a shocker,” Hart said.