Time-to-market in two days? That’s what PBS’ Make48 national competition is all about. 

No matter the experience level, Make48 participants are asked to come up with a product from a prompt, pitch it, go through IP restrictions, design it, and manufacture it in just 48 hours.

That’s exactly the kind of challenge the team from Stellar Tech Girls, a company in Madison, Wisconsin, wanted to take on – and win.

The organization aims to inspire and empower girls and non-binary kids to see their potential in engineering through fun, in-person STEM programs that inspire confidence and self-discovery. The group provides scholarships to their programs for anyone who can’t afford the fee. Learn how you can support their mission by sponsoring a scholarship.

What better way than to take on the Make48 challenge? The challenge was sponsored by TREK Bicycle and focused on sustainability.

The Stellar Tech Girls team included:

  • Marina Bloomer, the Founder and Program Director of Stellar Tech Girls, is an aerospace engineer and passionate advocate for diversity in engineering.

  • Ella Burmania, a summer camp counselor and a senior at Waunakee High School interested in a career in medical research and neuroscience

  • Nina Chan, a summer camp counselor and a sophomore at Middleton High School with goals to study electrical, electronics, and/or computer engineering

  • Keerthi Peddinti, a summer camp counselor and a senior at Middleton High School interested in a career in Computer Science.

Onshape, as the official CAD software of Make48, along with Lumafield, the creators of X-ray CT scanners for engineers and a Make48 sponsor, also participated in the event to help teams leverage the professional tools available to participants. 

While on the floor, our teams saw many inspiring design stories, talent, and innovation. Marina shared the Stellar Tech Girls story with us.

The Stellar Tech Girls team
(The Stellar Tech Girls team. Courtesy: stellartechgirls.com)

Why Participate in Make48?

Stellar Tech Girls was a finalist at the 2022 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition, where I met someone who connected me with Make48. The entrepreneurship community in Wisconsin is incredibly supportive, and I am appreciative that they thought to connect us so that we could participate in Make48 Madison this year!

I knew we had to enter the Make48 competition when I learned about it. The mission of Stellar Tech Girls is to empower girls to overcome challenges and think like an engineer, and the Make48 competition is a perfect environment for that kind of experience. 

The high school girls on our team were nervous about doing something so new, especially after learning about the experienced all-adult teams they would be competing against, but they rose to the occasion and showed everyone (and themselves) the brilliant innovators they are. 

I knew an experience like this pushing them out of their comfort zone would allow them to grow in confidence and engineering skills, which would make them more inclined to participate in intimidating STEM activities in the future. 

Make48 creates an environment that allows anyone to excel in innovation by surrounding you with mentors and tool techs, like the Lumafield and Onshape teams, who help facilitate all your ideas and plans. Learning about this amazing support system that would be around throughout the competition was the final bit of encouragement that helped the girls decide they wanted to participate.

The team at work
The team working on prototyping their design. (Courtesy: Marina Bloomer)

What Was the Make48 Experience Like?

Make48 created an experience that truly allows everyone to reach their potential as innovators. They have built a team of mentors and techs that is so supportive and encouraging, which allows anybody to take an idea and turn it into reality in 48 hours. 

This experience allowed the girls of Stellar Tech Girls to discover their true potential and gain confidence in their abilities. Life is full of challenging, seemingly impossible tasks. After going through the Make48 experience with the winning product, these girls are ready to take on their future. 

For me, winning Make48 supported the reason I started the Stellar Tech Girls company. Our girls have the creativity, brilliance, and grit to make the world a better place if given the encouragement to pursue a career in STEM. 

Even in high school, they may have an idea that could change the world if given opportunities like Make48 to empower their innovative abilities.

What Happened During the Competition?

We were given a challenge by TREK to invent a bike-related product that focuses on sustainability by using recycled materials from bicycles and bike-related products. 

We also knew that it was important for TREK to improve the accessibility of biking. 

The high school girls on our team started their brainstorming by listing the top issues preventing or limiting people from bike riding. They knew that they wanted to invent a product that solves a real problem, then incorporate recycled materials to meet the sustainability challenge. 

After brainstorming a list of top problems people face while biking, they decided to focus on the fear of cars approaching when you can’t see them. 

Ella’s mom is an avid road biker and is often nervous biking around country roads alone because she may not hear an approaching car, and this personal story inspired their idea. 

They researched competitor products and met with IP attorneys to ensure that their product idea was unique, then got to work building the prototype. 

I mentored and supported their work along the way, but the idea was entirely developed by the high schoolers on the team. This group of high schoolers knew that true innovation solves a real problem, and because of this way of thinking, they won the Make48 competition! 

TREK was so impressed by their product idea and now has the opportunity to own the IP and turn the idea into a real product.

The sizzle reel for the Madison competition. (Make48/YouTube.com)

What Were the Challenges?

Leading up to the competition, the team was nervous and uncertain about participating in something so new. 

I have worked on engineering development for years and was excited to introduce the high school girls to their first innovation challenge. When the teams were announced, the team was increasingly nervous seeing the experience and many all-adult teams they would be competing against. 

Especially since the challenge was unknown until the moment the clock started, there was a lot of uncertainty and fear that we were getting in over our heads and would not be able to stand up to the competition. I encouraged the girls that they were bringing a unique viewpoint to the competition that the adult teams don’t have, and I told them to make the most of the experience and have fun.

The best part of the challenge for me was seeing my team transform on the first day. They went in nervous and uncertain but ended the first day with an idea they were proud of and a plan for building the prototype that made them excited to try new things. 

I also loved watching the team come up with plans on what needed to get done to build the prototype, then rely on the mentors and tool techs around them to execute their vision. 

Their excitement after that first day was after working with the attorneys to ensure their idea had no IP infringements, working with the Lumafield team to scan a Trek bike seat, and working with the Onshape team to start turning their hand drawings into a 3D model. 

The Make48 team was so supportive and there to follow the orders of the girls, never overstepping by providing suggestions or taking charge. The girls had full ownership of the whole experience, and it was so empowering. 

There were difficult times during the 48 hours. It was an intense weekend with late nights and early mornings, and there were moments when we were uncertain if we would finish everything in time. These moments led to frustration, but we pulled together as a team to make it happen.

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What Tech Tools Did the Team Use?

Being in high school, the girls on the team did not have experience doing 3D modeling. But they were able to draw out their ideas and work with the Onshape team to turn their idea into a model. 

They loved working closely with the team to see the process for creating a model, which they could then use to 3D print their prototype. 

They were also enthusiastic to take advantage of having the Lumafield CT scan capabilities and the team there. They had the Lumafield team scan a bike seat, and the model was then incorporated with the prototype model that the Onshape team had created. 

This allowed them to work with the Onshape team to adjust their prototype design and ensure it worked seamlessly with the actual Trek bike seat dimensions before 3D printing and building it for the final prototype. 

At the end of the competition, they were all raving about how cool CT scanning technology is and how they wish they had access to a CT all the time. This was a really unique aspect of the competition that gave them insight into real-world engineering processes in a fun and approachable way.

What Were Your Main Takeaways?

We were absolutely elated when they announced that we won the Peoples’ Choice Award! 

We were proud that all of the mentors and tool techs considered our team worthy of winning this award, and it was a symbol of all of the incredible relationships and support we had received throughout the competition. 

After sitting down with this award in hand, we were happy and content. We never imagined that the next announcement would be that the first-place winner of the competition was also Stellar Tech Girls! When we heard the announcement, the whole team was in shock. 

I am so proud of what the girls accomplished throughout the 48 hours, and their product and pitch were so deserving of the win. We came into the competition assuming we were the underdogs, just to have a good experience and push ourselves to take on a new challenge. 

By winning, we demonstrated that innovation requires looking at problems differently, channeling creativity, and working together through tough times. We don’t look like your stereotypical engineers, but we have proven that we are brilliant at innovating. 

Entering a new environment, working through challenging times, producing something from nothing in 48 hours, then winning the whole thing was an experience that changed the lives of the girls on the team.

There is no doubt that in the future, they will have greater confidence to take on challenges and think like an innovative engineer. We are so excited to go to nationals and take on our next challenge!

Try out Onshape Professional as you watch the latest Make48 season!

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