Last Friday, over 100 Macalester students gathered in Olin-Rice Science Center for one sleepless night of innovation and entrepreneurship – as well as the chance to compete for awards of up to $1,000.
The college’s sixth annual Macathon challenged 20 teams of students to design an original service or product to solve a real-world problem in 24 hours. Teams were asked to develop a feasible business plan for their product and present their idea to a panel of alumni judges. Kate Ryan Reiling, Macalaster’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence,was chiefly responsible for organizing the event.
“We really think entrepreneurship can help students who have either an idea they want to work on, an opportunity they see, a problem they’re exploring in their classes or one they have maybe experienced in their own life,” Reiling said.
“I think Macathon is a framework and a format to get students to think about the complexity of those issues – and certainly there’s a ton of limitations. It’s within 24 hours, so this is not the only or sufficient look, but it’s the beginning of getting students looking at these problems and spending more time on [them].”
Although 20 teams participated, only the top three projects won financial awards.
The winning project was developed by six students under the team name “Bangori Beauty Brush.” Their invention, a pocket that could be attached to the inside of a person’s clothes in order to easily carry medical devices like an insulin pump, won the team a total of $1,000.
“We call it ‘Fuse,’” said Ben Sydel ’18, one of the members of Bangori Beauty Brush. “One member of our team has Type 1 diabetes, and carries an insulin pump wherever she goes. When she was younger, her mom used to sew pockets on the inside of her clothes to make it easier for her to carry, because there’s a huge stigma there… we realized we could maybe solve the problem.”
Sydell, a Macathon participant for the past two years, said that his history with the competition served both as an advantage and a disadvantage.
“I think I had an idea of what the competition was gonna be like,” Sydell said. “Last year I was on a team with a bunch of people who participated in it before, and we knew exactly what we wanted to do – not in terms of the idea, but in terms of what people were looking for. This year, we just focused on making a really cool idea.”
While Sydel felt prepared, not every Macathon participant knew exactly what to expect when they signed up.
“I knew that it would take up my whole day, but I didn’t know how much emotional energy would go into it,” Jennifer DeJong ’21 said of participating in Macathon as a first-year. “I did not understand how hard it would be to stay up all night, have to function with a group, and then present in front of people.”
DeJong’s team, “A Bug’s Life”, was exclusively composed of first-year students. Among her teammates were Michelle Armstrong-Spielberg ’21 and Giselle Cohen ’21.
“We created an app that’s essentially a virtual punch card,” Armstrong-Spielberg said. “Our app takes a simple, super-addicting game that you would normally have on your phone, and connected that with small businesses.
“The more you play the game, you rack up points that can be used to get discounts at the small business, and the more you frequent that small business, you get currency to make purchases within the game.”
For Cohen, one of the most exciting parts of the event was getting to see the final presentations of the competing teams.
“I was really curious to see what people are capable of in a short amount of time,” Cohen said. “And the answer is everything. If you put a bunch of really smart people in a room for twenty hours, you come out with things that are amazing… I wanted to help my friends do this, and I wanted to be a part of it myself.”
Whether or not they would get involved with Macathon again, the first-years said, largely depends on sleep.
“Once the competition was over, I had been up for over 35 hours,” Armstrong-Spielberg said. “I was basically a dead person walking.”
Students with an interest in innovative competitions will have the opportunity to compete in Macathon’s sister contest this spring, Funkathon.