First-year University of Texas at Arlington students Chandon Lim and Chun Lau placed their miniature car at the starting line, hoping their invention will drive up a ramp and make it to the other side.
It wouldn’t be an easy task — the cars that had gone before them struggled to even get up the ramp, let alone make it to the finish line. Lim, an aerospace engineering major, and Lau, a mechanical engineering major, hoped that their carbon dioxide-powered car would have a different result.
Lau tapped the back of the car with a mallet, and with a loud pop, the car flew up the ramp and glided to the finish line.
It was all part of a competition for Innovation Day at UT Arlington, held Thursday at College Park Center. The annual event, which is in its second year, showcases technological innovations by local high school and college students, as well as businesses.
Lim, 18, and Lau, 21, won first place in the college division of the competition, beating 11 other teams of UT Arlington students. Lim and Lau joined the competition to get extra credit for a class, not realizing they would win. Both went home with iPad minis as their prize.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” Lim said. “I feel like up to now, it’s like a giant spring of tension. The whole deal is just relaxed now. It’s all over, all coming down, and I guess we got a little bonus prize at the end.”
But other than simply displaying new technology, organizers of Innovation Day wanted to use the event to educate students about turning their inventions into a business.
“Sell your product,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said at a luncheon for the competitors. “As a scientist, you’re going to have to develop those communication skills because you need to be able to sell what you’re designing and building.”
The market for technology innovation is “ripe” in Dallas-Fort Worth, said Mike McNair, head of the automation and intelligence systems division of the UT Arlington Research Institute.
“Whether it’s the aerospace and defense, whether it’s manufacturing and production, whether it’s warehousing, even companies coming in like an Amazon coming into the area, really just boost the overall technological capability of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so it’s booming,” he said.
But even though the Dallas-Fort Worth area has several resources for technology entrepreneurs, such as TECH Fort Worth and the Cowtown Angels, more people need to step up to help guide technological innovations into the market, said Duane Dimos, vice president of research at UT Arlington.
“If we have people who better understand how to invest in technology, either at the venture capitalist level or the angel investor level, we’ve got to be able to create a network where people are talking to each other regularly about new ideas they have and ways of getting investment into those ideas,” he said.
He said he hopes Arlington can model after the Silicon Valley region of California, known for its large number of venture capitalists, angel investors and technology incubators who help entrepreneurs in the technology field.
Back in May, UT Arlington launched an initiative to connect university-developed technologies with investors in Silicon Valley, headed by Gloria Maceiko, chairman and CEO of California-based solar development company DirectNu Energy.
Another part of the initiative is to bring the same resources found in Silicon Valley to the Dallas-Fort Worth area — to “create a mini Silicon Valley in Arlington,” Maceiko said.
“What we need here, in my opinion, what we have in Silicon Valley, is to promote entrepreneurship right from the get-go at the university, so the university students or even high school kids know that this is an opportunity,” she said. “They can actually convert their idea into a company. Then we should give a roadmap of how to do it.”
Events like Innovation Day encourage students to pursue the technology field, McNair said, giving them opportunities to apply what is being learned in the classroom.
That’s what 14-year-old Samantha Maldonado wanted to do at Innovation Day. A first-year student in Arlington Martin High School’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academy, Maldanado competed in the Innovation Day competition with her team and won first place in the high school division. Her team’s car was powered by elastic potential energy, pulling a rubber band and letting it go to send the car forward.
She wants to become an aerospace engineer someday.
“I felt like this would be a step forward into learning, having a new experience and really just getting a step towards my career,” she said.