FEATURE STORY

Young Innovators Band Together for Bangladesh’s Future

June 24, 2016

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A remote controlable boat-like machine to pick up floating waste to clean water.

Photo Credit: Better Stories

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two innovation incubators events, Make-A-Thon and Maker Fest have helped university students in Bangladesh form a community of makers, spur innovation and promote entrepreneurship.
  • The young innovators came up with practical solutions and developed 32 prototypes to solve real-life problems such a traffic jams.
  • Make-A-Thon will lead to establishing Fab Labs in universities through a competitive process and allow them to implement their innovations.

From huge traffic jams to boats capsizing, Bangladeshis face diverse challenges. But innovative youths can innovate their way to solving these problems by leveraging the country’s rich resources and low-cost technologies.

In May 2016, around 100 innovative graduate students from universities across the country participated in the prototyping contest known as the Make-A-Thon 2016.  

Within 3 days, they developed 32 prototypes to tackle problems affecting a wide range of sectors: healthcare, transport and infrastructure, agriculture, biomedical engineering, energy generation, physical challenges, sustainable energy management and many more.

Building a community of makers and problem-solvers

The World Bank-financed Higher Education Quality Enhancement Program (HEQEP), implemented by the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Education and the World Bank through Better Stories organized the Make-A-Thon  and Maker Fest to cultivate a community of makers, who will support the development of Fab Labs (fabrication labs) in 10 universities in Bangladesh.

Prior to the Make-A-Thon, a series of Maker Fest events were organized at 7 leading universities to build a community of aspiring innovators. Maker Fest is based on the principle that everyone is a maker and taps into the innovativeness and problem solving skills of Bangladesh’s younger generation.

Students’ Inventions at Make-A-Thon

Participants made 32 prototypes using ordinary materials such as paper, foam polystyrenes, and metal as well as more advanced hardware and software like sensors, 3D printers, the open-source electronic prototyping platform Arduino or the programming computer Raspberry Pi.

The students’ products aim to save river commuters from drowning, keep rivers clean, conduct quality control of milk, or help enhance the government’s surveillance capacity to keep people safe. They also invented smart canes for visually impaired people, and devices for parents to find affordable toys for their kids.

Some teams had been working on their project for a while. Others instantly teamed up at the event and kick-started their project from scratch. Students from different universities and institutions were quick to make friends and collaborate with each other to achieve something big.


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A sensor-equipped wrist band with a mobile application that serves as an emergency alarm, bio records data transfer and harrassment alert.

Photo Credit: Better Stories

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A portable quality control device to measure moisture content, temperature, pH level and humidity of milk and other liquids.

Photo Credit: Better Stories

The Winners

Out of 400 applications, 100 were selected for the Make-A-Thon and went through training and mentoring sessions during the event.

Ten projects were selected as winning ideas. A two-member team from the Bangladesh Agriculture University won the contest. They made “QC Pro,” a portable quality control device designed to measure the moisture content, temperature, pH level and humidity of milk and other liquids. One of the two contestants wanted to reduce food waste and started making this device based on his experience as an intern at an ice cream shop where tons of milk got discarded due to a lack of quality control.  

He and his project partner used a 3D printer and sensors to make the prototype and connected the device to a computer software for measurement. The contest runners-up made “Happiness for All,” an affordable remote control plane for kids, priced at around $3.

The Make-A-Thon provided a platform for students to showcase inventions, learn, and interact. Twenty-three workshops and training sessions with experts from Bangladesh, Canada, Peru, and the United States helped the students gain knowledge of design, product development, and business skills. Eighteen public and private sector partners supported the event with tools, in-kind donation and time. The Honorable State Minister of ICT Division, the Ministry of Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology, Mr. Zunaid Ahmed Palak chaired a ministerial policy round table. The university faculty, vice chancellors, and industry members at the round table discussed how universities can work more closely with the private sectors to become economic growth hubs. 

The Way Forward

Maker Fest and Make-A-Thon are just the start. Soon, the HEQEP will issue calls for proposals to set up Fab Labs in universities and promote an environment conducive to future innovators. Through collaborations with various innovators throughout the country, more innovators and entrepreneurs will emerge to help solve problems. As an immediate next step, the ICT Division of the Ministry of Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology will provide seed funding for the top 10 eligible  projects from the Make-A-Thon; Better Stories will provide one-year business incubation training session to all Make-A-Thon participants.