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Kid inventors shine at national competition

August 2, 2018

min read

Innovation takes a lot of imagination – a naturally abundant resource inside the creative minds of kids, often just waiting to be realized.

To help children tap into their inner innovators and give them the tools to build a better, brighter future, Koch Industries partnered with the STEMIE Coalition – an organization aimed at elevating invention and entrepreneurship education in America – to help bring their imaginative ideas to life. And, maybe one day, to the world.

“It’s such a meaningful experience to help young inventors realize that their ideas do matter,” said Nick Briere, director of outreach for the STEMIE Coalition. “Students are seeing that the process of inventing new ideas and products doesn’t have to be just an academic exercise. They’re seeing firsthand that this is how you change the world, and they’re the ones doing it.”

One of the biggest ways the STEMIE Coalition gives kids a platform to shine is through its annual National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE), an in-person pitch competition where kids’ inventions and entrepreneurial thinking are really put to the test.   

This year’s NICEE competition, which was held at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, brought together student inventors from schools all over the country. To qualify for NICEE, these students all had to win state-level science fairs, entrepreneurship competitions or smaller invention conventions. 

For Lino Marrero, a fifth-grader at Farmingville Elementary School in Ridgefield, Connecticut, his innovation – and his second invitation to the NICEE competition – came through a lot of trial and error. To create the Sole Solution, an adaptable soccer shoe with swappable soles for different playing surfaces, Lino failed eight times before finally landing on a winning design.

“After every failure, a new idea was born, which led to my final prototype, which works great,” he said.

Lino prepared for this year’s pitch to the judges by doing his own market research, including seeking advice from his town’s high school soccer coach, his local soccer shoe store, an area orthopedic surgeon and even the town cobbler.

But in the end, developing a winning design ultimately came down to trusting his intuition and research. And, believe it or not, failing eight times first.

“All the experts, all the adults thought the snap-on solution would be the best,” said Lino. “And I just thought, I’ll try the zipper. The zipper turned out to be the best, and I was so happy.”

Of all the innovations in the competition this year, some of the most inspiring were those that sought to serve the needs of others.

Mie Green, a third-grader out of Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School in Groton, Connecticut, created The Benny Chair, a sensory chair for her four-year-old brother Benny who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and is on the spectrum for autism.

When pressed on why she developed The Benny Chair, her response was both heartwarming and pure of heart.

“Because I wanted him to sit with me longer at dinner,” she said.

To help her family enjoy more family together at the dinner table, Mie took an ordinary dining chair and modified it with sensory touchpoints tailored to her brother’s needs.

She attached soft silicone basting brushes to the sides of the chair for Benny to run his fingers through and added a cooling cushion for him to sit on (because he doesn’t like sitting on hard surfaces), nonfunctioning light switches, fidget spinners and even a foot pedal he can use to rock his feet back and forth.

“Everyone can invent at least one thing,” she said with a smile. “I know that because I’m nine years old, and I can invent things that can change the world.”

And the Koch Visionary Award Winner Is...

Ten-year-old Claire Rhodes from Liberty Elementary School had a problem she was trying to solve – one many other kids her age also face.

“My mom would always yell at me when I’d come of out the bathroom,” Claire said. “She’d ask me if I washed my hands, and my answer was always ‘no.’”

So, Claire set out to develop a sanitary solution to her chronic lapse in handwashing. She modified an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser to fit inside a toilet’s flush handle, and the Toiletizer No. 2 was born.

Her innovation earned her the Koch Industries Most Visionary Award for its brilliance in simplicity and for providing a solution to a common real-world problem.

For Claire, the hardest part of the innovation process was failure. She failed multiple times over three months before finally getting her prototype right. But her perseverance and ultimate success led her to share a few words of wisdom for other inventors her age:

“Keep going, even when it’s hard.”


View the full list of NICEE 2018 winners and see the pitches that got them there.