By Ryan Hunter—
MUNCIE, INDIANA—What do a water-cleaning robot, portable dishwasher, and school bus tracker app have in common? Those were just some of the solutions developed by middle schoolers at the first Tech-Spark event.
On July 9-11, local middle schoolers gathered at the Innovation Connector in Muncie to collaborate and create their own business ideas. The three day experience, led by TechWise Academy, taught these young students the basics of tech entrepreneurship and foundational knowledge of robotics programming, drone programming, and app development. Students were placed into groups and had no prior relationship with their teammates before the weekend.
“We really wanted students from all over our community to work together to solve a problem with technology,” says Ted Baker, CEO/Executive Director at the Innovation Connector. “The fact that they didn’t know any of their teammates really forced them to work together to accomplish all that we asked of them over the weekend.”
The weekend was based off of Techstars’s Startup Weekend concept. The idea is to gather individuals and work on a brand new business idea over the weekend. Typically these are held at colleges & universities (in fact, Ball State is hosting one this fall) and participants come into the weekend with most of the foundational knowledge.
“I thought to myself: why can’t middle schoolers do this? What if we give them a framework to be successful and then turn them loose on problems that they’re excited to solve—that they came up with on their own. The other adult mentors and I were blown away by the quality of the ideas and how focused the students stayed throughout the weekend,” said Ryan Hunter, Co-Founder of TechWise Academy.
“I picked my son up at 7 p.m. (after arriving at 9 a.m. on Saturday) expecting him to be exhausted,” said one parent, “however, he just kept talking about his group’s idea and how much fun he had during the day.”
Students spent the weekend working on the three P’s: Plan (Business), Prototype, and Presentation. Mentors were available to help develop their business plans and to build a prototype for the problem they were solving.
The ideas included:
- A mobile app to capture images of real animals similar to Pokemon Go.
- A mobile app to track and report locations of school buses.
- A robotic K9 unit to help police chase and apprehend criminals.
- A portable dishwashing unit that could be used while traveling or in smaller apartments.
- A grocery system that includes robotic delivery through an app.
- An app that enables communication between school officials and teachers during a school lockdown.
- A pool/river water cleaning system that utilizes underwater drones.
- A robotic butler to deliver food items to individuals in assisted living facilities.
At the end of the weekend, students showcased their ideas virtually and in front of close family. Each student was also able to take home a DJI Tello Edu drone to continue their learning.
Tech-Spark weekend and the other Spark IT workshops held at the Innovation Connector were made possible by the generosity of the George & Francis Ball Foundation.
TechWise Academy teaches coding and computer science to children, K-12, and introduces them to new ways to problem solve and explore curiosity and creativity. Visit techwiseacademy.com to enroll in online or in-person coding and robotics classes or find free resources..