mikromakro: Little heads - big ideas

It starts with an idea and ends in an invention

Baden-Württemberg is number one when it comes to inventions. To keep things that way, talented young people need to be excited about the natural sciences, math and technology. They also need support to bring their fresh ideas to life. That’s precisely what the experts at the Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek have been doing since 2008 with the Baden-Württemberg Foundation’s mikromakro program.

The project is clearly a winning idea. Today, over 200 teams of inventors from a student body of over 1,500 are already working on putting their ideas into practice. “What’s unique about this project is how it combines funding, the availability of expert knowledge and having those experts on-hand”, explains Wolfgang Müller, head of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek in Villingen- Schwenningen. Essential know-how – something that schools don’t usually offer in depth – is provided by staff from the Steinbeis Transfer Center. They play an active role in coordinating groups in workshops on creativity, project management, markets, technology and copyright law.

“Inventor teams” of at least four members apply for a place on the mikromakro program by submitting a project outline, detailing exactly how much money they’ll need. Candidates who win over the expert jury with their ideas receive a budget of up to € 8,000 over a two-year period. The goal isn’t just to launch an idea in the real world – these young inventors are also supposed to keep working on solutions to a particular challenge. This means they have to be able to alter the scope of their project, react to changing circumstances and find a suitable partner who will help them navigate their way through the project.

The Internet and Facebook fan pages are an excellent and obvious way to share information. Groups can introduce themselves, showcase additional things they have learned and even publicize interesting events and competitions. Participants are also spurred on by success stories of mikromakro teams who’ve made considerable advances in their work or already completed their projects. However, since virtual interaction is no substitute for faceto- face contact, regional meetings are held throughout Baden-Württemberg on a regular basis. This is where projects are showcased and teams can share their experience. Young inventors are also aided by students from the Festo educational fund. These students act as mentors for the mikromakro team, providing expertise and advice on how to overcome technical hurdles.

In the meantime, the first promising prototypes have been developed. One example: Six students from the Romäusring Gymnasium in Villingen-Schwenningen have designed a safe that opens remotely via telephone. Five young inventors at the Johann Christoph Blumhardt School in Mühlacker created a straw that shows the pH value of a drink as it’s being consumed. Six other students at the Werkgymnasium in Heidenheim dreamed up an automated, intelligent underwater weed mower.

2010 marked the first appearance of the mikromakro booth at IENA, the international trade show for inventors in Nuremberg. Nine teams of inventors had the opportunity to show their work to the public and make important contacts. With the aim of maintaining the inventive spirit and an interest in scientific and technical professions, mikromakro was named a “Selected Landmark for 2010” in the “365 Landmarks in the Land of Ideas” initiative, which has no less than the German president as its patron. Backed by the Baden-Württemberg Foundation, the mikromakro project is an effective way to encourage students in their endeavors in technology and the natural sciences. Not only is it fun for everyone involved, it promises to be successful in the long term, too.

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