Why We Need More Makers

It takes a lot of courage to make something; anything! Will it be a perfect solution? Probably not. But there’s still something special about people who take an idea or recognize a need and set out to create a solution.

NC State just hosted its second annual Make-A-Thon to invite students to do just that: make something. The goal for this competition focuses on creating sustainable solutions that range from conserving individual water use to building smarter cities.

More than 100 students set out for a weekend that follows in the footprint of a hack-a-thon format. After equipping students with some coaches for the weekend, several days of meals, snacks and space to work in — teams of 3 to 5 set out to solve sustainability challenges.

Grand prize winners took home a set of 3D printers for the team, IBM sponsored a $1,000 cash prize for Built on Cloud winners who leverage the Internet of Things to build solutions. Teams chronicled their weekend on social media and took home various gift certificates, selfie sticks, etc. Check out some of these stories here that include our winning teams and prizes! Other winners included the best AutoCAD designs using Autodesk.

These types of competitions mirror challenges faced by entrepreneurs every day. Can groups identify a problem worth solving? Can they mobilize a small team to accomplish a goal with limited resources and time? Could they pitch their idea and garner support from judges or the public?

The path certainly isn’t an easy or a clear one. In fact, fewer millennials are self-employed than they have been in recent years. The Kaufmann foundation even suggests that young people are slipping away from the entrepreneurial reputation over time. It’s true that uncertain economic future and the lack of a safety net are very real concerns.

Students at competitions like this push back on that notion, at least in part, by trying out their ideas and innovating. Surely, they don’t all intend to start companies or even chase down the creation from the weekend-long challenge — but they have at least opened the door. Whether it’s a project, a passion, a side hustle or a full-time role at their own company, these students are doing it.

This weekend’s winning team, Humble Gents, set out to tackle transportation on college campuses and address challenges in getting around in efficient, sustainable ways. The group highlighted the need for quality bicycle rental programs, and illustrated a solution that involved taking custody of the abandoned bicycles at NC State. Alper Ender, a senior in Electrical Engineering, pointed to the team’s winning strategy of finding a problem they all dealt with in their daily lives.

We sat down with the themes and thought of problems that we could address. Since our theme was transportation, we figured nothing was more sustainable than bicycle,” said Taha Arif, a senior in Electrical Engineering, and Humble Gents teammate. “We specifically wanted to encourage people other than cyclists to have easy accessibility to a bike for single use.”

Arif described his motivation for joining Make-A-Thon as wanting to put his engineering degree to the test.

“The experience of a Make-A-Thon fosters a creative environment with food, mentors, and other like-minded individuals,” he said, describing the benefits.

Ender offered advice for aspiring makers, and encouraged them to use their skill sets and delegate tasks.

Draw from your own personal experiences and think of creative solutions in order to come up with a good idea,” he said. “Then, split the tasks between group members. Some of the tasks we split were designing 3D CAD models, creating the web framework, printing the 3D models, and developing a feasible business around our idea.”

Need more motivation to stop thinking, and start doing?

Harry Gordon Selfridge, an entrepreneur that revolutionized retail shopping in London, was quoted as saying “do the right thing, at the right time, in the right place.” No matter what right-ness turns out to be, there’s only one way to get there. It starts with an idea, and it ends with action, regardless of the twists and turns that will inevitably take place between points A and B.

At the EI, we’re very lucky. We get to work with incredibly talented students with bright ideas and the grit to make things happen for themselves. There are plenty more out there, too.

Instead of the comfort that comes with being couch critics that can identify flaws or ways to improve innovation, but we need more folks to join forces with the people who are putting themselves or their ideas into the hands of the public.

“For future participants, I highly recommend sticking to this event and leveraging all resources that are available at that point.  I can’t stress enough how much I’ve learned in a span of two days from my teammates as well as everyone else participating in the Make-A-Thon.  People had some great ideas and seeing these come to life in a short time proved that anyone can give it a shot and there’s nothing to lose from participating.  I thought it was really fun and suggest anyone coming in to be enthusiastic, outgoing, and positive when building and presenting.”
In the spirit of NC State’s simple, effective “think and do” slogan — let’s equip our communities and encourage our students to translate that into action. We need more “makers” in the world.

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