In 2013, while they were enrolled at Shenzhen-based hardware accelerator HAXLR8R, Tarun Pondicherry and Josh Chan created a prototype of an educational electronics system they called LightUp. It was a crude mockup—Pondicherry recalls spray painting their single, painstakingly-constructed prototype in an alleyway—but their concept was a big one: a snap-together kit for building electronic circuits that, viewed with a special app, would show the journeys of individual electrons through LEDs, sensors and other electronic components.
“I’d always been interested in teaching electronics and programming ever since high school,” Pondicherry said last year. “Even though I was on an engineering track, I spent a good amount of time teaching kids about robotics as extracurriculars.”
The question, with the prototype in hand, was what to do next. They could try to sell the design to a third party, look for investors, or pull together a crowdfunding campaign. Instead, Pondicherry and Chan decided to initially enter their design in the Pitch Your Prototype challenge, the inaugural year of a Make: contest that is now open for submissions for its third and current year.
“It was really interesting to see that even though we had a really early version, we were able to convey it and get response,” Pondicherry said of the early prototype, which he says captivated both adults and children.
Ultimately, they won the contest. The prize was nice, Pondicherry recalls, but he remains especially grateful for the exposure they got to the Maker community, which he says led to support, advice and a publicity boost when the launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund LightUp soon afterwards.
“Winning Pitch Your Prototype really helped us get the momentum going,” Pondicherry said. “A lot of people in that audience were really influential, and helped get us on the right trajectory.”
In fact, the Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise just $50,000, eventually netted more than $120,000. With those funds, they delivered backer rewards, moved into serious production and now sell a range of LightUp kits directly and on Amazon.
In a matter of weeks, Pondicherry implies, they plan to announce an expansion to the LightUp system that emphasizes programming.
The Pitch Your Prototype challenge is a collaboration between Make: and Cornell University with the goal of digging up promising ideas from the Maker community. Visit this page to read the full rules, cast your vote or enter your own project.