Meet the Austin Design Quad: Team Profile

By March 9, 2017Team Profile

“We wore squid hats one day and that was fun because it annoyed Kirby”—Alec

We had the chance to catch up with the Austin Design Quad (one of the amazing teams that competed in the October 2016 event), and ask them about their experience in the competition and after.>

The Austin Design Quad or ADQ, is made up of Kirby Kendall, Alec Van Tilburg, Renee Williams and Evelyn Williams. Kirby and Alec are actually 2-time Make48 competitors, and competed together in DC for the June 2016 Make48 event at the Smithsonian!  Along with Renee, Evelyn, and a well thought-out plan, they came back for another round and competed in the October Make48 event in Kansas City, where they were filmed for the first season of Make48 TV! “Alec and I did Make48 DC as a two-person team.  It was fun in a challenging way, but we knew we needed to expand our team.  Renee helps us manage projects at work and is great during brainstorming.  We knew Evelyn would be a great help with internet research, packaging the product, and videography,” said Kirby.

Renee, Kirby and Alec all work together; Renee is a project manager and Kirby and Alec are both research scientists in the invention field. “When Kirby and Alec described their DC experience, I knew it would be exciting to do,” said Renee. The fourth member of the team, Evelyn, is a middle school student with knowledge in coding, who has actually built a functioning robot before, “I knew I had to join after going to the website. I made a submission video to Kirby and Alec so they would let me join”

The Event

The team describes the experience as a particular blend of challenging and fun. Evelyn summed it up as “stressful in a fun way”. Kirby compared the Make48 experience to running a marathon, “it was a hard push…  After you’re done, you vow to never want to do it again, but then you want to after some time has passed.”

The pressure of competing and working under the pressure of the clock is definitely challenging, “we all needed to be doing something at every moment” recounts Evelyn. This is even considering that this team was extremely well prepared! Renee tells us that they were in good control thanks to a master schedule made by the team during prep, and because they had very defined roles. But nevertheless, Alec recalls never having enough time to do everything you want to do, or as Kirby put it, “you often have to say ‘it’s 80% of the way there— that’s good enough!’”

The product idea that this team put forth for the October 2016 Make48 event was actually based on an old product idea. “The idea was something that I had dreamed up about 15 years ago. It’s been on my ‘idea list’ ever since, but I’ve always chased down other potential products instead”, says Kirby. For Alec, getting to this idea among many others was actually an event highlight, “my favorite part is down-selecting to the top idea with the tight schedule”. The team was ultimately able to select this product and run with it until the finish line, which Renee found to be lucky “if we had to change to a back-up idea, it would have trashed the schedule, and the idea brainstorm was way more stressful than expected”.

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The team recalls having some great in-house support during the process of creating the prototype, “we had lots of help with the sponsors and tool techs to talk through the idea,” recalls Alec. Sponsors attend Make48 events to provide teams with fantastic mentorship, talk through ideas and give advice. Tool techs are actually there to help teams with any part of the creation process that they are not experienced in, “one of the [tool techs] was a graphic artist and he… did a fantastic job on the logo and image for the packaging and presentation” recounts Renee. Tool techs help teams with anything they may need to get a prototype together, and ensure that anyone, with any level of experience can compete! The infrastructure at the events also helps teams put together exactly what they envision, team ADQ  “used the 3D printer to make test boards and prototype parts,” says Kirby.  Alec actually enjoyed Epilog’s laser cutting tool so much that he now wants his own! “The laser cutting tool and tech was an awesome help and I want one now”.

Another key part of the Make48 event is pitching to the judges. This part of the event is fantastic because teams get to witness what others have come up with, and most importantly, share their own invention with the rest of the room. Nevertheless, it is a lot of pressure, “I was terrified when I did the final presentation to the judges,” recalls Renee. Luckily, teams have an opportunity to practice their pitch to the judges before the final event, which can mitigate the fear factor, “it was nice to have the practice run in front of the judges on Saturday,” Renee remembers, “looking back, I would do that again—pushing myself”.

Kirby, Evelyn and Renee presenting to the judges


Team ADQ actually chose to have a patent attorney friend, John Fortkort, draft a provisional patent application for their product while they were competing. “When Kirby was describing how the team was planning for the Make48KC, I offered to help write up a provisional during the competition. I work with inventors constantly and invented a toy race set several years ago” states John. John tells us there were challenges to drafting something that would normally take weeks in under 48 hours, “normally I wait until the product is mostly complete before I start working, but this time I kept having to update the application. Also, my research helped guide the prototype development so the process was more interactive”. Overall, John’s experience of the event was extremely positive, he tells us that “it’s a privilege and a challenge to create on the fly” and that
“teamwork and collaboration are the coolest things about my job as a patent attorney, and that’s what this event was about”. Having John’s support also created one of Kirby’s personal event highlights, which was “seeing the judges faces when we plopped down a 30+ page provisional patent application during the presentation”. Wowza!

The Austin Design Quad with John Fortkort

The Aftermath

The team has unanimously said that they would all, definitely, compete again. Evelyn told us that Make48 made her more interested in the marketing and packaging part of inventing, and Alec and Kirby have actually been working on furthering the prototype that they built within the Make48 competition. When asked about how their lives changed since Make48, Kirby told us that he spends a lot of spare time trying to make a decent prototype, and Alec told us that he is now “bothered by Kirby to keep working on the prototype”. Ha! The patent attorney they brought on board has since become part of their team for presenting a finished prototype of their product. 

We asked Team ADQ about whether or not they would encourage others to apply. Kirby very sincerely said that he would not encourage others to apply, but that’s “because we want to be picked as a team, not someone else”. Other team members were less hesitant! Evelyn believes “it’s an experience you might not get with anything else”.

Team ADQ believes that Make48 TV will bring a lot to watchers at home! Kirby is excited to watch the TV show and learn how other teams came up with their ideas (which they only heard about during the pitches), and wants to experience the whole event from the camera’s perspective. Renee, Alec and Evelyn are all interested in what the viewers will learn when watching the show. “[The audience] will get to see that there can be a lot of different approaches to solving a problem. People each bring different strengths to the team and even though you may not be an engineer, the engineer will need help in areas where s/he is weak,” Renee points out. Alec and Evelyn are interested in people getting to watch the process of creating and building prototypes, and as Evelyn put it “get[ting] to see different types of creativity”. John, the patent attorney, also talks about what viewers will gain from the show, and says “they will get to see that how this process is, how innovation happens.  Lots of false starts.”

We can’t wait to see what happens next for Team ADQ! We are glad they are a part of our growing Make48 community and hope that their invention story inspires a whole generation of new inventors! To learn more about the Austin Design Quad, their product and their process, make sure you don’t miss Make48 TV! Airing this fall, 2017 on national public stations! If you want to be a part of the next season of Make48 TV, make sure you apply to our September 28-30 event at the Kansas City Art Institute. Happy inventing!

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