Aspiring Inventors Gather at KCAI for Make48 Inventathon

Last Year’s Event Will Be Televised This Fall

From September 28-30, the Kansas City Art Institute will play host to the fifth Make48 Inventathon, reprising their role last year as host to the fourth Inventathon, when 17 teams crowded into the David T. Beals III Studios for Art and Technology, the school’s new high-tech digital fabrication shop. They were there to compete for a chance to star in a reality TV show and get their inventions to market.

As the event’s name suggests, each team had 48 hours to make a prototype for a new invention. Last year’s competition prompt, revealed at the start of the event, was to design a household consumer product that retails for between $19 and $30. The price range was chosen as the ideal cost for QVC, the TV shopping channel and primary sponsor for the event.

As the teams toiled away on prototypes, marketing plans and video pitches, a professional camera team was there to capture each step of the process.

The teams themselves came from many different backgrounds and some had competed in prior Inventathons. Some teams were families, others were co-workers, some were students and some were serial entrepreneurs.

Team 801, a group of three brothers from the Salt Lake area, had competed in earlier events. Each brother brings unique skills to their team, including expertise in plumbing, digital marketing and running a startup business. For Team 801, the Inventathon is part of their personal sense of the American Dream.

“We love the 48-hour concept” said Julio Aguirre, one of the three brothers. “The staff is great. They’ve helped refine our products, get patents, even lent us a car once. This kind of work is a dream for us. Our parents were immigrants. We’re here because of them.”

Another group of contestants at last year’s event was Team Jiggawatt, comprised of two fathers who wanted to supplement their children’s homeschooling with a unique educational experience. Both fathers have worked as inventors and engineers and wanted to instill confidence in their children that anyone can be an inventor.

The competition’s youngest competitor, Emily Abbot of Team Jiggawatt, seemed exceptionally confident, given that she was a middle school-age teen competing against adults. “I like seeing my idea turning into something real,” said the young inventor.
“I like seeing my idea turned into something that can be sold.”

At this point, you might be wondering, “Well, what were these teams inventing?” Unfortunately, as all of the inventions are patent pending, one can convey only the vaguest concept of what was invented during the competition.

At the end of the 48 hours, all of the teams gathered in Epperson Auditorium to present their inventions and pitch the contest judges. Each team showed off a prototype, along with hastily made, and often humorous, infomercials. One team created a device to prolong the life of kitchen sponges. Another team had a unique garage storage system, another team a kitchen organizer. Perhaps the most bizarre invention can only be described as an interactive urination game, marketed for both potty training and as a gag gift, and the winning team’s product was a cutting board innovation.

All weekend, as the teams toiled away on prototypes, marketing plans and video pitches, a professional camera team was there to capture each step of the process. While previous Make48 competitions were just competitions, last year’s event was also filmed in order to create a reality TV show. As the winning team, all KCAI students, continues to refine their product and get ready to take it to market on QVC, the cameras will keep rolling to show what it takes to get from a prototype to a finished product in the consumer’s home.

It should make for interesting television, a chance to see what it takes to make those odd products that haunt late night television and wind up in our cupboards and closets. You might deride such inventions as a bit useless, but Make48 cofounder Rich Brull sees it differently. As an inventor himself, who got his start on the TV show “Robot Wars,” he wants to give others the chance he once received.

“As altruistic as it sounds, we want to open doors for people. We want them to learn what they can do. We want to share what we’ve learned about inventing and marketing. We want to pay it forward, by helping new inventors achieve commercial success.”

The fun begins anew in late September, when a dozen teams will compete at KCAI in the next installment of Make48.

The “Make48” TV series, with footage of last year’s event at the Kansas City Art Institute, begins airing this fall. Check local listings for show dates and times. For more information, make48.com/tv

About The Author: Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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