Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub at Winrock International hosts invention competition

State enters contest for first time through Innovation Hub

From left: Henry Vannoi, Harrison Cain and Isaac Hubberd of the Treble Makers team, work on their project during the Make48 engineering challenge competition at the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK -- The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub at Winrock International hosted a 48-hour invention competition over the weekend at their facility in North Little Rock, with teams using their innovative ideas to win prize money and a chance to perform nationally.

Make48 is a nationwide docuseries that gives teams a challenge at the start of a two-day event, according to a news release. The competition was held in several cities -- including North Little Rock. Make48 started in 2015 and this was the first year Arkansas participated in the event.

The challenge theme was based on the Trail of Tears and the winning team's ideas will be placed at Riverfront Park.

"North Little Rock is really looking at kind of redeveloping Riverfront Park and making it a more interactive experience," Errin Stanger, director of Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, said. "I thought this was such a historic site for the Trail of Tears."

During the Indian removal period, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes traveled through the state.

While Stanger said it was amazing to see contestants collaborate and research -- the competition was hectic at times.

"All day Saturday was packed with building and creating the prototypes -- 3-D printers are going, laser cutters are going, all the CNC machines are going, table saws nonstop, welding, you name it," she said.

Stanger said there were six teams competing this year. Each team had two to four people.

The event started Friday and ended Sunday. Teams had to create a prototype, a one-minute marketing video, a sales sheet and present their idea to a panel of judges. The first-place team wins $2,000 and advances to nationals in March 2023.

Chance Fisher was a part of the WWMD team. The 17-year-old heard about the competition while attending an EAST conference.

"Beforehand, the only thing I knew coming in is that I would win money if I won," Fisher said. "I did not know I would be a part of something as important as this. We're getting the opportunity to make a very historical piece."

Fisher said he and his team started working on their prototype Saturday. He described the process as a stressful, yet insightful one.

"We all have that leader mindset and have strong opinions on things, so it's kind of hard to agree on things, but we got there," he said.

"The best part of the experience is that we all know each other better as people now."

Fisher said he's been able to network and connect with other teams in a friendly environment.

"No hostility really, because we're all competing to make a change."

While he couldn't say what their invention idea was because of competition guidelines, he felt confident that his team would win the competition with their idea.

Stanger said Make48 brought its own team of people to help during the competition. All of the tools were being used by technicians who work with contestants to create their prototypes. Each team received about $200 to go to the hardware store to get the supplies they needed, according to Stanger. She said national sponsors with Make48 also brought their own equipment to help people during the competition.

"The tool technicians are actually making it [the prototypes], and that's a real difference in this competition because not everyone can make something."

Team members may be of any age, but each team must have someone who is 18 or older.

"They said the youngest competitor throughout Make48 has been 7 years old and their oldest has been in their 70s," Stanger said.

The director hopes this competition will inspire innovation and expand opportunities in the local community as well as encourage people to take advantage of the resources available in the state.

Jason Irby, vice president of Arkansas Chapter Trail of Tears, was a judge at the competition. According to Irby, a few things teams were judged on was how the prototype affects the public and how interactive it would be with the community.

Irby said it's significant to pay homage to the role North Little Rock had in the Trail of Tears.

Stanger said the hub can't announce the winner of the challenge for at least 90 days, per a contract with the event.