Last week Make in LA and HexLab hosted the NextGen Makers event. Sixty high school students from NAVA College Prep Academy arrived to explore the facility, learn about laser cutting and work hands in assembling the Mayor’s Cup trophies that they had helped design.

NAVA Prep High School Students in the Exponential Entrepreneurial Program

What was the story that led them there?

Kicking the morning off, Carmen Palafox of Make in LA explained the genesis. “A couple months earlier Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office called me to ask if Make in LA and HexLab would create the trophies for the finalists of the Mayor’s Cup.” The Mayor’s Cup is a start-up competition, launched for the first time this year, allowing local college students and faculty members to present their ideas to solutions in two categories: improving civic engagement through land use; and helping grow the local economy.

Eric Espinosa, Carmen Palafox, and Juan Vasquez

Juan Vasquez, strategist for the Operations Innovation Team of the Office of the Mayor, described their mandate to reach out and “connect” entrepreneurs and innovators across the city as they planned the Mayor’s Cup. In the spirit of inclusion, Carmen had an idea. Could the high school students at NAVA Prep’s Exponential Entrepreneurial Program get involved and design the face of these trophies?

When she reached out to the NAVA Prep teachers, Aja Koester and Carlos Oyarbide, they loved the idea. Students then worked in teams to create their designs. Two final drawings were selected by HexLab and Make in LA. (One for each of the two categories of the Mayor’s Cup competition.) Meanwhile, HexLab began to manufacture all the components of the trophies.

Mike Hexter of HexLab, Aja Koester and Carlos Oyarbide of NAVA College Prep

Now, at this NextGen Maker event, the students would get a full tour of the Make it LA and HexLab Makerspace, learn about the money and mentorship an accelerator provides, and also get hands-on to assemble the Major’s Cup trophies. Mike Hexter, founder of HexLab, explained the process and thinking that went behind the selection of mirrored plastic, LED lighting and battery power, use of laser cutters and the trial and error of iterating until they had all the pieces working together and looking great! The students then got started.

Dustin Mertens, also of HexLab, led students next on a tour of the maker space explaining the history of 3D printers and how the release of patents over the last decade has led to the recent revolution of the maker movement. Students had a chance to see the array of tools including the laser cutter that etched their designs into the mirrored plastic used for the trophies. This will certainly help them as their next assignment at NAVA Prep is to draw up plans for their own maker rooms at school. It was encouraging to see a healthy ratio of girls to boys interested in innovation. This is especially significant as Make in LA’s is cofounded by a woman, Noramay Cadena, and is one of the first female-led accelerators in the country.

Dustin Mertens of HexLab (photo left) and NAVA College Prep Students at the laser cutter (photo right)

Students had a chance to learn about Make in LA’s accelerator program, what they look for in their Cohorts, and how they fund and provide mentorship. Carmen encouraged them to look for problems in the world and try to solve them. One of their current entrepreneurs who also responded to a question, “How do you get inspired?” His answer was “from the people and places I’ve been to, and the technologies I’ve worked with.”

With the trophies complete and lights on, these kids seemed satisfied and ready. Ready to continue their path, and seek out clues about their own passions. It’s brilliant to see this kind of support and mentorship woven into the LA community thanks to mentors like Make in LA, HexLab Makerspace, the Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles, and NAVA Prep (whose Exponential Entrepreneurial Program was spearheaded by Marcus Shingles, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, and served as the driving catalyst for the NextGen Makers event).

The day concluded with a group photo and a spirited Mannequin Challenge that had the students striking a playful pose around the iconic firetruck parked near in the center of the Make in LA’s space. The truck serves as a symbol to think outside the box. Carmen told the story how they had to divide the area between Make in LA and HexLab. “We had a choice, we could build a wall, or we could think outside the box,” she said.

When you plan your next competition or a tour of your facility, maybe you’ll continue to think outside of box too. Play around with ideas on how to weave in mentorship so the fabric of your community becomes stronger, and more dazzling.

— —

The Mayor’s Cup culminates on December 8th in it’s Final Round. The five finalists from each category will present their pitches to a panel of judges including Mayor Eric Garcetti, and business leaders from Amplify, the Honest Company, Shark Tank, Will Smith’s management firm. The mayor will then present the Grand Prize Winner with a check for $25,000 and the opportunity to work with City Hall for eight weeks to develop their idea.

About the contributing author Cicek Bricault:

Starting her career in tech back in the 90s, Cicek helped develop and manage online communities for GeoCities as well as IdeaLab! and other Web 1.0 startups. She has a heartfelt inquiry for the impact technology makes on our lives, as well as the environment. Her focus is on empowering youngsters with the wisdom of the world. She loves to travel and is currently writing her first novel. Follow Cicek on twitter: @cicekb

The SoCal epicenter of hardware entrepreneurship and innovation. Partnered w/ @ToolboxLA @NEOSolves #CSUN and @1111_ACC.

The SoCal epicenter of hardware entrepreneurship and innovation. Partnered w/ @ToolboxLA @NEOSolves #CSUN and @1111_ACC.