Thomas Edison Holds a Pitch Contest

Middle school student teams recently showed their ability to be both innovative and articulate as they pitched new product ideas to a panel of judges and competed for top honors in the Edison Innovation Foundation’s new Thomas Edison Pitch Contest. All this happened on a Saturday morning at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park [TENHP] in West Orange, NJ.

The winners and their teacher mentor pose near the historic desk of famed inventor Thomas Edison on display at TENHP.

The winners and their teacher mentor pose near the historic desk of famed inventor Thomas Edison on display at TENHP.

Competing teams from Heritage Middle School, Grover Cleveland Middle School, and Glen Rock Middle School put it all on the line to extoll the virtues of their ideas; and then answer tough questions about the viability of their designs. Here is how it all boiled down:

  • First Place- $1,000 to Heritage for the “Ultimate Air Quality Sensor”
  • Second Place- $500 to Glen Rock for the “Charging Solution”
  • Third Place- $250 to Grover Cleveland for the “Motorized Brush Cleaner”

With the award money, the teams can now develop prototypes of their product ideas, and will report on their success by the end of the school year in a written report back to the Foundation. The contest exemplifies how in the STEM-rich business world new ideas are first conceived, funding is obtained for their development [the pitch] and how actual prototypes are built and evaluated.

The three finalist teams and their teacher mentors enjoying a group photo at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park where the contest finals were held.

The three finalist teams and their teacher mentors enjoying a group photo at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park where the contest finals were held.

From the very desk in the photo above, Thomas Edison launched his famous invention factory concept which later became the foundation for R&D labs worldwide and the STEM process our children study in school today. It was not unusual for Edison to manage 30-40 new product development teams all the time.

Based on the success of this pitch contest, the Foundation plans to significantly increase the size of this contest in the near future.

Thomas Edison was there in spirit to listen to what these young entrepreneurs had to propose. That you can be sure of! He would have hired these talented future leaders.

Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Happy Birthday Thomas Edison: February 11th

Have you noticed how big this STEM educational movement sweeping our nation’s schools has become? We hear talk about students using heads and hands to solve practical problems, working in teams, keeping invention notebooks, learning from failure, thinking in multi-dimensional ways and integrating their subject matter. Students also often participate in numerous Maker Faires held in many countries all year long. Here students showcase their creative and entrepreneurial skills, doing exactly what Thomas Edison did when he coalesced interest [and investment potential] in his new technologies and inventions. Some organizations sponsor “Pitch Contests” to allow participants to pitch their projects to a panel of judges with the hope that a venture capital group ultimately will fund the commercialization of the project.

A recent Maker Faire held in New York City with a popular symbol embodying robotic technology.

A recent Maker Faire held in New York City with a popular symbol embodying robotic technology.

The STEM movement derives directly from Edison’s greatest accomplishment— the invention factory/R&D labs. It was the economic disruptive force of its time, remaining vitally important today. He gave us the keys to the industrial revolution of the late 1880s-the code book, the process, for continuous innovation. STEM and Maker Faires are the first step for tomorrow’s innovators to cut their teeth on the transition from new idea to working prototype.

Students engaged in team-based problem solving and the making of prototypes.

Students engaged in team-based problem solving and the making of prototypes.

All you teachers out there who lead teams of students through STEM activities and projects, you are acting just like Edison did as he managed 30-40 project teams at a time at his famous West Orange Labs. There his teams developed new products like phonographs, electrical equipment and the entire electric utility system, movie production, electric vehicle storage batteries, major advances in the making and use of concrete and many other technological advances and improvements. Think of your leadership of student teams as managing in-school Maker Faires!

Consider what people in the know have said about TAE’s life’s work:

  • The technology, inventions and industries that he created still account for $1.6 trillion [about 10%] of annual U.S. economy, and about $8 trillion of the world economy;
  • Life Magazine [1996] proclaimed him the “Man of the Millennium” i.e. the man of the millennium-1,000 years!;
  • TIME Magazine featured him on the cover of a special July 2010 history issue-proclaiming him so “relevant” to our world today;
  • Edison is the human icon for invention and creativity; and he is an inspiration to generations of inventors and entrepreneurs.

This deserves a big Happy Birthday Thomas Edison on February 11, don’t you think!

Check out these sites for plenty of additional information about Edison:

“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Would Applaud Tesla’s Gigafactory

Batteries and their high costs are the limiting factor for electric vehicle commercialization, with most vehicle companies content to let battery manufacturers set the pace. Not so with Tesla as it forges ahead to build its own huge lithium-ion battery plant, now in its first commercial phase in southern Nevada.

Gigafactory now about 30% complete, located in southern Nevada, will generate 4,000+ jobs.

Gigafactory now about 30% complete, located in southern Nevada, will generate 4,000+ jobs.

Tesla is also building battery packs to power homes and back up the electric grid. In September, the company announced a deal to supply a record 20 megawatts/80 megawatt-hours of energy storage to Southern California Edison as part of a wider effort to prevent blackouts, replacing fossil-fuel electricity generation with lithium-ion batteries.

The storage products fit into Musk’s long-term vision of transforming Tesla from an electric car company to a clean-energy company. That’s the same motivation behind his recently concluded deal to acquire SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. rooftop solar installer.

Tesla home battery packs for use with their solar energy venture with SolarCity Corp.

Tesla home battery packs for use with their solar energy venture with SolarCity Corp.

In cooperation with Panasonic and other strategic partners, the Gigafactory will produce batteries for significantly less cost using economies of scale, innovative manufacturing, reduction of waste, and the simple optimization of locating most manufacturing process under one roof. They expect to drive down the per kilowatt hour (kWh) cost of battery packs by more than 30 percent. Check it out. The Gigafactory will also be powered by renewable energy sources, with the goal of achieving net zero energy.

Thomas Edison would applaud this Gigafactory effort by Tesla, as Edison pioneered the large scale, centralized production of nickel-iron storage batteries. Following a ten-year design and testing effort, the battery was put into production around

Here amid the sprawling 25-acre Edison West Orange complex (ca.1928), shown in blue outline, is the block-long, L-shaped battery production facility. Part of the building still stands today.

Here amid the sprawling 25-acre Edison West Orange complex (ca.1928), shown in blue outline, is the block-long, L-shaped battery production facility. Part of the building still stands today.

1910. Designed originally for use in electric vehicles, the Edison batteries went on to become used by various branches of the military, the railroads, the mining industry and the merchant marine – making batteries his most widely sold and perhaps most profitable product. Edison batteries were made and sold into the 1970s, long after Edison’s death. Edison was also a big solar proponent way back in 1910 as well.

To this big effort by Tesla, Edison would say, “Elon Musk … it’s your turn now. Show us what you got!”

Thomas Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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