Make48 might be entering its sixth season, but the Kansas City-based, maker-focused reality series is still evolving, said Tom Gray.
For the first time, the Make48 competition is set to take place in the makerspace at the Kansas State School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kansas. The teams in this year’s last City Series event — set for Dec. 2-4 at the school — will be made up of visually-impared students from across Missouri and Kansas, including from the School for the Blind.
The goal is to show that there are no barriers and that anyone can compete, said Gray, co-creator and CEO of Make48, who noted he first had the idea for the event when he was encouraged to visit the makerspace at KSSB.
The mission of Make48 has always been to bring maker opportunities to underrepresented communities, he added.
“When we saw the opportunity with the School for the Blind, we’re like, ‘Well, what a great example to let them have a chance and be up there with the rest of them,’” Gray continued. “Let’s celebrate these students and put them on exactly the same level playing field as everyone else.”
As in other Make48 competitions, the students will have 48 hours to collaborate and come up with an innovative idea that fits the given theme — “Chickens in the Kitchen” for this event — create a prototype, promotional video, and sales sheet, and then present the idea before a panel of judges. Each team works with a tool tech that will handle the building of the prototype.
Throughout the competition, team members will have help from experts in marketing, patents, and other areas. The top team will win $2,000 and advance to compete at the national competition — slated for March 2023 — where one team can win $10,000.
Click here to learn more about the start of Make48.
The only thing different with the competition at KSSB, Gray explained, will be that each team will be paired with a captain from a local company.
“That team captain can join the dots and sort of work with our tool technicians and relay the messages,” he added. “(The captain) has the freedom to move around, go to the hardware store, be their base partner to help lead them. But we’re asking the teams to ideate, come up with all the concepts, (and) do it just like we do it in every other competition we do.”
Jon Harding, superintendent at KSSB, said in a news release that the school is thrilled to partner with Make48 to bring a premier competition to students who are blind or have low vision.
“It sends a message that STEM is for all students, and that those who are blind can display their intelligence, creativity, and team-building skills alongside community and business leaders,” he continued. “This competition will allow students to build relationships with adults and peers in a positive, exciting environment. This will be a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to expand their social networks and to identify potential mentors who can help them on their journey to independence, employment and post-secondary success.”
Gray has been impressed with the interest in the event, which saw the quickest-ever sign up for team applications, he said.
“That was interesting because that goes to show, again, they’ve never been asked to do anything like it,” Gray noted. “When they had that opportunity. It was all systems go.”
After a hiatus during the pandemic, Make48 shifted its focus to events in Midwest cities.
In Season 5 — now available to stream through partners PBS and the This Old House Maker channel on Roku — four cities hosted competitions. This year, for the coming sixth season, Max48 has expanded the footprint and competitions to Fishers, Indiana; Madison and Beloit, Wisconsin; Milwaukee; North Little Rock, Arkansas; and Wichita.
The event in Kansas City, Kansas, will be the last before nationals, which will be hosted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“We’re actually just even sort of hovering outside of the big cities even, giving these small cities a chance,” Gray explained. “They really appreciate we’ve chosen them compared to the bigger cities. Because most of this type of thing has happened more on the coast or the Chicagos.”
Each city has a different theme for the challenge. In Milwaukee, Make48 partnered with Harley Davidson and the teams came up with new playground concepts. In Madison, Trek Bicycle Company challenged the teams to come up with ideas for recycling and reusing its bike parts. The Wichita teams developed ideas for water conservation in community gardens.
The North Little Rock competition posed the challenge of creating an interactive memorial for the Trail of Tears.
“(The trail) passed through North Little Rock, so that was a very powerful event,” Gray said. “Wherever we go, we really have some different and unique concepts. Some of them are consumer products, some of them are a problem the city is trying to solve.”
Igniting a new partnership
Also new this year, Make48 is partnering with Operation Breakthrough to become Makers In Residence at the Ignition Lab, said Gray. The Ignition Lab, supported by Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce’s 87 & Running Foundation, opened earlier this year.
Make48 has always wanted its own maker space, Gray said, but the team couldn’t find the right location and didn’t want it sitting idle while the production crew was traveling for competitions.
“Let’s build stuff for Make48,” he recalled of proposing the concept to the Operation Breakthrough team. “Let’s film content for the television or whatever. But let’s get the kids and the students to have hands-on experience.”
Students will have the opportunity to work alongside Make48 team members to create re-prototypes, event signage, trophies, and VIP gifts, plus help with creating film content.
Gray also thinks the space will be a great place to host future Make48 events, he said.
Operation Breakthrough CEO Mary Esselman is excited for the new Maker in Residence program with Make48, she said.
“It embodies the intent of the Ignition Lab: to provide workforce development and entrepreneurship to urban teens through real world learning opportunities,” she noted in a news release. “The opportunity to work alongside one of Make48’s team members will provide students with essential skills using a wide variety of tools and projects.”
This isn’t the first time Make48 has worked with Operation Breakthrough. In Season 4, a team from Operation Breakthrough competed in an event at Union Station. Last year, Make48 helped to create a one-of-a-kind fan experience with seats from Arrowhead Stadium for the Ignition Lab.
Click here to read more about the building of the fan experience.
Gray loves to work with Operation Breakthrough because, like the Make48 events, students are allowed to get a taste of innovation opportunities in everything from woodworking to digital fabrication without a lot of formal training, he said.
“Let people just get their fingers dirty a little bit and test the waters,” Gray added.