What if you had an idea that could change the world? That could enrich a community? That could make someone’s life easier? But what if it stayed locked up in your head because you didn’t have the tools to bring it to life?

Make48 exists to ensure innovation is accessible. Co-creator and CEO Tom Gray says, “Our vision was to give people a chance to build physical prototypes because we find that only 5% of the population can build something and everyone else has ideas stuck in their head. The only way to advance those ideas is to prototype them.”

Make48 competitions give that 95% a chance to create, with help from experts, host makerspaces, and cutting edge tools and equipment. “All of a sudden,” Gray says, “it’s not a unique group of people who can [build prototypes]; the average person can do it.”

Food at the Right Place at the Right Time

Food security and access is a pressing issue, particularly now as demand for food banks has surged. Preservation is also a challenge. What happens, for example, when a food bank receives palettes of fresh tomatoes? The end consumer who needs the food doesn’t have the capacity to process a whole bag of tomatoes. A kitchen acting as the “middle man” could prepare meals with ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, which could then be distributed to folks around the city.

How would a community food locker work? How does it know who receives meals? How does someone register? How could design help remove stigma around accessing this resource?

This was the challenge posed at this year’s Indianapolis Make48 competition, hosted by the Maker Playground at Hub & Spoke. The competitors knew only the theme of the event ahead of time – Tackling Food Preservation & the Supply Chain: Food at the Right Place at the Right Time – and received the design brief and criteria just five minutes before the clock started. “We didn’t want people to preplan,” Gray says. “We want them to go through ideation and research in the moment.”

Ready, set… innovate.

Ideas Come to Life at the Maker Playground

 The Maker Playground at Hub & Spoke is owned by City of Fishers Parks & Recreation and managed by Nick Synder. The team jumped at the chance to host this innovative competition. Synder says, “Make48 is out of the box. They do all the heavy lifting from fundraising and identifying the challenge sponsor to getting tool techs on board and having safety in place. We had the opportunity to be the facility. As a Parks & Rec program, that’s what we love to do.” The 15,000 square foot, state-of-the-art makerspace certainly provided competitors with all they needed to unlock innovative ideas.

The six teams competing at this Make48 included teachers, students, artists, engineers, friends, and family. Their experience with technology and making were diverse – and this is the secret to success, according to Gray. “We find that the most successful teams have different disciplines. So, they may have an engineer on the team, a salesperson, someone who’s really good at marketing. You have to do the whole lot in those 48 hours, and at the end, if you can’t communicate, can’t pitch, it’s going to be a struggle.”

Experience can help but so can inexperience. Gray says that many competitors are young (the youngest at Make48 was just seven!). “They’re not scared to fail, and they don’t know their limitations.”

As mentioned before, Make48 is all about making innovation accessible and freeing ideas from inside our heads. There were expert resources readily available; teams could ask onsite mentors for tips, suggestions, or ideas. Teams could also call on fabricators, welders, and other professionals to help them build the actual prototype.

Through these events, Gray says, “We’re teaching people that they have assets all around them, and they must collaborate.” It’s not about teaching teams to weld or use a CNC router; it’s about connecting th

em with the tools and resources they need to advance their ideas.

This is the heart of what makerspaces do. Gray explains that one goal of Make48 competitions is to showcase that these spaces are available. “If you can’t prototype what’s in your head, it’s really limited. And if you want to build a prototype and Google it, big engineering firms come up first. You don’t want to go to a major engineering firm to prototype a consumer product; you need to do it in a scrappy, low-cost way. Makerspaces have all the equipment – and often have members with diverse experience. It’s all about collaboration.”

Synder says that the event “helped us tighten our family within the maker community” – and undoubtedly expand it. “One of our challenges,” he explains, “is that on a weekly basis, someone from the community says, ‘I didn’t even know this existed.’ [This] helped expose us to new aspects of the community.”


And the Winner Is… 

Well, we can’t tell you. The winning team will be announced on Roku’s This Old House Makers Channel. But says Gray, “Out of the six teams, there were very unique aspects of each. In the future, what if we could take all of those unique aspects and coalesce them into one community food locker?”

For example, one team had an attractive looking device that was also very reliant on a small amount of moving parts and gravity-fed operation. When we talk about innovation, there are a lot of failing points. With fewer parts… less goes wrong. By taking the best features of each, a great service could be offered to the community.

Rather than let ideas stay trapped inside minds, Make48 seeks to free them. A product from a previous Make48 event, for example, just launched a Kickstarter. Harley Davidson is committed to taking the first place winner and advancing their idea. Trek Bicycle is taking two teams’ innovations and bringing them to the next level. While Make48 does not build prototypes or develop products, “We highly encourage teams and point them in the right direction for relationships and connections.”

So, really, everyone was a winner here. Gray also says, “We were super impressed with the [Maker Playground] and the people behind it. They were great to work with.”

Making for Non-Makers

As both Tom Gray and Nick Synder mentioned, many people in the community aren’t aware of the opportunities available at makerspaces. Think of it this way: If you are one of the 5% who can build and make, then they’re veritable playgrounds! And if you are one of the 95% who cannot (or, rather, have not yet) these spaces are where you can go to access the assets and resources you need to translate an idea into a prototype, a product, a tangible something that you can use or develop further.

It’s all about collaboration – and not being scared to fail.

Visit the Maker Playground at Hub & Spoke. This is a resource for 100% of the community. Come in, check us out. See what you can make.

photo courtesy of Fishers Parks