Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Made for more

The second annual UNC Makeathon brought together Carolina student innovators and makers to build physical and digital prototypes designed for social impact.

Two work on their product at a worktable.
Student team SaniBottle develops its product prototype for the Carolina Challenge Makeathon.

To read the name of the event, one might assume that the student teams competing in the 2020 Carolina Challenge Makeathon were focused on simply the obvious: making new products. But after hearing the 26 teams deliver pitches during the competition’s finale, you quickly understand that they spent the prior two weeks going beyond what most might guess goes into building prototypes.

To these students, the process of making evolved into more than just physical production. It involved figuring out how to make their teams work together, uncovering how diverse perspectives could make their ideas stronger, learning to make persuasive business pitches and using their ideas to make a social impact.

During the two weeks of series of events, workshops and mentor sessions, 143 students-turned-entrepreneurial-makers set out to transform socially innovative concepts into physical and digital prototypes with real business potential. The payoff? A total of $11,000 awarded across top teams that can use the funding to develop their ideas further.

The Makeathon was hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in conjunction with nine campus partners, including Innovate Carolina and the Be A Maker initiative.

“This experience was really formative in actually creating the physical product,” said student Harshul Makwana, who competed in the Makeathon with a team called SaniBottle, which is building a product prototype to sanitize water bottles within a matter of minutes using minimal energy and no water. “We were able to learn a lot about how to go from idea to actual prototype.”

The multifaceted experience that Makwana describes is indicative of the type of engaged learning that leaders at the Entrepreneurship Center set out to create for students.

“Our primary goal for the Carolina Challenge Makeathon was to give students new ways to collaborate with other teammates from different majors to put their creative ideas for social impact solutions into action,” said Aspyn Fulcher, assistant director of the business school’s Entrepreneurship Center and director of the Carolina Challenge Makeathon. “By expanding the event from one week to two weeks this year, we saw student teams take advantage of an increasing number of entrepreneurial resources on campus and produce multiple iterations of the prototypes they built and tested to solve the problems that they care about.”

The culmination of the two-week journey filled hours of product design and team prep was the Makeathon Finale, where 26 student teams pitched their ideas to judges who selected the top late- and early-stage products — both physical and digital — across a variety of categories. In total, 16 different teams and individuals won cash for taking their ideas to the next level of maturity.

For Gokul Dass, a student majoring in economics and earning a minor in entrepreneurship, the Makeathon was a chance to expand his entrepreneurial horizons. His Go2Grow team, which developed a prototype for a carbon-neutral and environmentally friendly alternative for portable restrooms, earned two awards: runner up for the best early-stage physical product, plus recognition for making the most progress on a physical prototype.

“I thought the Makeathon was a great experience to learn about the social impact side of entrepreneurship,” he said. “And it was also a chance to work in interdisciplinary groups and across majors to learn about other perspectives at Carolina in order to create a better product in the end.”

Meeting the winning teams on Innovate Carolina’s website