Madison plays host to unique maker competition

Make48 will give local teams of amateur inventors 48 hours to create and bring a new product to life while competing for $10K.
Feature Make48 Competition Panel
Makers and amateur inventors at the recent Make48 competition in Wichita prepare to create.

What could you create in 48 hours if you had all the tools and talent you might need right at your fingertips? A collection of local makers and amateur inventors from all walks of life plan to find out when the Make48 invention competition comes to Madison Aug. 12–14.

Make48 is a nationwide, invention-competition docuseries that gives teams a challenge at the start of a two-day event. With just 48 hours, teams must create a prototype, promotional video, and a sales sheet, and present their idea to a panel of judges. The teams have access to a makerspace and numerous “tool techs” who can make almost anything, thus allowing everyone to have a level playing field and the chance to win.

Eight teams will compete at The Bodgery in Madison for a chance to win $2,000 and advance to compete at the national competition, slated for March 2022, where one team can win $10,000. The competition, now in its fifth season, will also air on PBS sometime in late 2022. All any of the makers know about this year’s challenge going in is the general theme — outdoor play.

Midwest Prototyping will serve as the Madison competition’s challenge sponsor, helping craft the teams’ objective. As one of the leading forces in the rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing industry, Midwest Prototyping utilizes and integrates advanced 3D printing technologies.

“Having just celebrated our 20-year anniversary in the 3D printing space, we are well aware that early access to these powerful technologies, and more importantly the design thinking that empowers people to leverage them, has the potential to shape a better future for all of us,” says Steve Grundahl, president, Midwest Prototyping. “We are honored to sponsor the Make48 Madison challenge and are excited to see the inventions that will come from it.”

“We’re thrilled to see what local teams will create with the array of tools at our shop,” adds James Pittman, president of The Bodgery. “It’s an incredible opportunity to highlight Wisconsin makers on the national stage, and we couldn’t be more excited to fuel their creative process with resources and support!”

The Bodgery is a 22,000-square-foot community makerspace in the former machine shop of an Oscar Mayer plant. The open shop features a multitude of fabrication tools such as textiles, woodworking, glasswork, metalshop, welding, CNC, and 3D printing.

The local maker teams run the gamut from college students to outdoor sports professionals to a married couple looking for something fun to do. Each is eager to accept the challenge of creating something new without any advance planning.

Solutive Badgers is made up of UW–Madison students from Indonesia, who note that growing up they weren’t exposed to rapid prototyping and make-athons like this. While they’ve all known each other for two years, the four team members have never really had a chance to make together as a team, nor have they had the opportunity to collaborate with people outside of their respective study focuses.

Team Free Wheelers are seasoned professionals who all work for or with Trek bicycles and have ample prior product and prototyping experience. The team notes they’re all about outdoor play in their jobs, and the competition theme fits well with what they do every day. “We feel that it is important for everyone to get outside and play in any way possible and this competition is a way to expand our impact,” they note.

One of the most entertaining teams might be Highly Illogical Captains, the husband and wife duo of Jen and Jamie Doser. The Make48 competition is taking place the same weekend as the couple’s 11th wedding anniversary. “We couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do, and realized we could participate in Make48,” they say. “We both love creating things and solving problems, so it seemed like a great way to spend some time together as well.”

While they don’t have any specific ideas for the competition, since the details of the challenge haven’t been revealed yet, they note that they started camping in a pop-up camper with their three kids this summer and they feel like there are a lot of opportunities in that arena for creativity.

Making Make48

Tom Gray is one of the co-creators of the Make48 competition, which he describes as just something that was started by four guys in Kansas City who wanted to show what was possible within a collaborative environment with an idea, tool techs, and a makerspace.

“The concept of ‘idea to prototype’ is very daunting and confusing, and many people’s ideas will never materialize,” notes Gray. “With a makerspace as a host and talented tool techs building for you, we know anything can be prototyped within the walls. Giving just 48 hours is often unrealistic, but it can be done when many people are available to assist.”

Gray says that one difference in this year’s competition will be the stakes. Over the past four events on PBS, Make48 did not have a real end game in place or a partner to take on the innovation. While prototyping is relatively simple with the right people and equipment, taking innovation to the world is extremely time-consuming, expensive, and risky, he explains.

“With that, you need the perfect product that is solving a real need, that consumers want, and is worth spending considerable money to get to market. With our city series in 2021, and for the first time, major brands get to decide the category and have the right to take the innovation all the way to market in exchange for a cash prize.

“Only 5% of the population can build something,” Gray adds. “The rest of us — including me — have ideas but don’t know what to do next. We are not trying to teach people to weld or CAD but to collaborate with those who can. Makerspaces are now in most towns both large and small and are very often very welcoming. Everything you need is within those walls.”

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