Idea to Action: Inspiration is All Around

Kim Moldofsky is the publisher of The Maker Mom and STEM Kids Chicago.

You probably know the old adage that “Every great journey beginning with a single step.” But what motivates a person to take that step? What moves someone from idea to action?

I’m a member of mHUB, an innovation center in Chicago for physical product development and manufacturing. Our building is full of entrepreneurs (many of whom are engineers) working to bring their breakthrough ideas to life. I interviewed a few mHUB members and a couple of leading young scientists about their inspiration to create the next big thing.

Ashley Moy is a cofounder of Cast21, a startup that makes a new type of waterproof brace for healing broken bones. She’s driven to create a product that balances form and function and offers the chance to save limbs and lives. “I’m inspired by fellow entrepreneurs who develop unique products, such as this origami-like clothing line that stretches as children grow.” 

America’s 2017 Top Young Scientist, Gitanjali Rao, was inspired to develop her winning lead detector by a combination of factors. After following the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, she saw her parents testing for the harmful metal in their water at home. Unimpressed with the clunky process of using test strips, she knew that this crucial process could be improved. “I really wanted to do something to change this not only for my parents but for the residents of Flint and places like Flint around the world,” she said. Gitanjali created a new test for lead in water taking advantage of technology like Arduino microprocessors and single-walled carbon nanotubes.

Michael Infanger of Verena Solutions recently launched a dental safety needle that not only protects dental professionals from accidental needle sticks, but literally and figuratively reduces pain points for patients. Michael is a keen observer of the people and situations around him. He says, “I find laughing and connecting with people very freeing, I often get a lot of ideas just interacting with others. I sometimes jokingly offer exaggerated solutions to common problems, but then actually apply some of that to the work I do.”

Maanasa Mendu, the 2016 Top Young Scientist, was inspired by family travel to India, where her relatives often experienced persistent blackouts. “When I realized that for over 1.2 billion people, darkness remains a permanent reality, I wanted to make a difference somehow,” she told me. “Additionally I found inspiration within nature. After observing the swaying of tree branches when exposed to wind, I realized that it resembled how piezoelectric materials produced an electric charge when exposed to vibrations, and I decided to emulate this natural mechanism. Using biomimicry greatly enhanced the effectiveness of my project.”

Jonathan Sheinkop’s backstory is a tale of pain in his back. He knew that an adjustable-height standing desk would help him straighten up at work, but he needed a new kind of chair to go with it. His “aha” moment came on a fishing trip where he used a simple device attached to the deck to lean against while casting his rod. “In an instant,” he reported, “I found the hook for a design concept for my standing desk chair.”

Start looking for those sparks of inspiration now. Before you know it, it will be time to put your idea into action and start your journey to become 2018’s Top Young Scientist!