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My Brilliant Idea

© AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Shubham Banerjee works on his lego robotics braille printer at home Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif. Banerjee launched a company to develop a low-cost machine to print Braille materials for the blind. It's based on a prototype he built with his Lego robotics kit for a school science fair project. Last month, tech giant Intel Corp. invested in his startup, Braigo Labs, making the 8th grader the youngest entrepreneur to receive venture capital funding.

By Diana Lynn, Cricket Media

Ready to try inventing? Already have an amazing invention? Find an invention contest and go for it!

What are invention contests?

Invention contests are a place for inventors to show their work. Expert judges look at the inventions and ask questions. The best inventions win prizes. What kinds of inventions do kids enter? It might be a new device. It could be an improvement to an old device. Or it might be a way of doing something, like a new kind of knot. Your invention could be anything, as long as it’s new, useful, and solves a real problem.

How do I enter?

First, find a contest that is open to your age. Ask your school or library to help you find a good one. Usually you fill out some forms online to enter. Read the rules carefully before you start! Make a list of important dates, like when the entry form is due. Some contests happen in person, at a school or convention center. Others are only online.

What happens in a contest?

Every contest is a little different. But most follow some basic steps:

Step 1. Find a Problem

Your first task is to pick a problem to work on. Find a problem you may actually be able to solve, and one that you care about. Often contests have a theme, such as natural disasters or pollution. Let’s say you enter a contest for inventions to help with natural disasters. In hurricanes, people often lose power and have no clean water. Maybe you can think of a simple way to make both?

Step 2. Research

Read up about the problem and possible solutions. What other inventions are out there? Browse the library. Look online. Ask lots of questions. Write everything you find in your invention notebook. Judges will want to see all your notes!

Step 3. Brainstorm

Think of lots of ideas and pick one to try. How about using water from a rain gutter to turn a wheel to generate electricity? Add a filter for clean water! Sketch your idea. Keep all your notes and drawings.

Step 4. Prototype

Build a rough model. It doesn’t have to work completely, but it should show the basic idea. Take photos and video as you build it.

Step 5. Test and Tweak

Give it a try. Oops! Need to make a few changes? Show it to other people and get feedback. Ask experts for advice. Keep testing and improving until it works right. This is the longest part of inventing, so give yourself plenty of time!

Step 6. Tell the World!

Come up with a sales pitch to present your idea to the world. If you want to win contests, it helps to have an eye-catching display and some videos showing what makes your invention great. You can even make a package and ads. Who are you selling to? The judges!

Now What?

Gather together all your material and submit it by the deadline. Then...wait. For online contests, you might be able to see if people are voting for your invention. If you do well in a local contest, you might go on to the next level.

Judging Time

For an online contest, your presentation is posted on a website for everyone to see. Sometimes the winner is decided by public voting. Other contests have judges.

For contests that happen in person, you might go to an auditorium or travel to another city You could be with hundreds of other inventors, or just a few.

This is how 13-year-old inventor Lino remembers his first contest: “Before the big day, I turned in a four-minute video I made. Then came the judging. I brought my prototype, a display board, and my invention log with all my notes and photos for every step. Three judges and nine inventors were in my group. This was called a judging circle. I showed my invention for about 5 minutes, then I answered questions for about 5 minutes.”

Lino knew he would be carefully judged on each step and he was ready for it.

And it wasn’t all serious. “After my judging circle was done, the kids in my circle were playing with a ball,” says Lino. “It rolled into another judging circle. That circle thought the ball was an invention!”

Presentation Matters!

Allie invented a binder with straps, like a backpack. She says, “Presentation is key when it comes to tough judging. If you have two competitors with inventions of the same quality, the one who is able to present their idea better is going to win. It’s all about how cool you can make 
it look.”

Why Do It?

It’s interesting. It’s creative. If you win, you can get prizes, trips, or even money. But there’s something above all that. You make the world a better place! That feels wonderful. Go Kid Inventors!

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