Builds Well with Others: A Guide to CoLab Makeathons

Nov 30, 2018 · 4 min read
Makeathoners at the Winter 2018 Makeathon (held over Halloween weekend, hence the costumes).

What’s it like to be part of the CoLab Makeathon? In short, Makeathon is like a build sprint on steroids. Instead of having a few days or weeks to build a prototype, your team is given a brief in the morning and asked to deliver a working prototype later that afternoon.

Why We Build Together

“Some companies play golf with you to get to know you better. We make things with you.”

The Makeathon is the second step we use to meet and evaluate candidates for the CoLab Fellowship. After you complete the online application, we use this one-day sprint as an opportunity to see how you build — with others. What are your instincts for making, given the very limited amount of time you have? How do you work with your team to move forward when you reach an impasse? How do you get creative about representing your prototype when you may not have time to actually code or create all of your screens digitally? (Pro tip: the answer is cardboard. Lots and lots of cardboard.)

For those that make it with us to the next round, the Fellowship offers a longer, deeper dive into the design process. We bring together a bunch of diverse makers to build prototypes together over a 2- or 6-week period. Teams create provocative concepts and uncover insights about where emerging technologies will take us, such as a blockchain-based parts tracking app to prevent fraudulent airbags from being installed, an app that uses both AI and IoT to plan truly personalized transportation within a city, or a reusable circular package delivery system. Essentially, the Fellowship is how we build, test, and validate ideas we have about emerging technologies, using human-centered design as a guide.

Putting the CoLab in collaboration.

You Can Take It With You

“When’s the last time someone said they enjoyed an interview even if they don’t get the job?”

While we can’t accept everyone into the Fellowship, we’ve heard over the years that even participants who don’t join us still get a lot of out of the Makeathon. After being immersed in our sprint process for a day, you start to get a sense for how to quickly build and validate concepts. You’re also introduced to other diverse, like-minded builders and creators, and some of our Makeathoners have even gone on to form friendships that go beyond the day of prototyping.

Get hands-on experience with our build process.

But You Don’t Have to Take Our Word for It

Still curious to learn more about what it’s like to join us? Here are stories from three former Makeathoners and how the experience resonated for them.

  • “After checking in, we did not have much time to settle in before the IDEO CoLab team had all 50 applicants on our feet cheering each other on through a rock-paper-scissors tournament. You could feel the energy in the air — a fitting precursor to what would follow that day.”
An outtake from the morning warm-up activity.
  • “The beauty of this whole process is the interdisciplinary nature of every team. My team was comprised of a brilliant mechanical/software engineer who is currently getting his masters at Cornell Tech in NY, an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at my very own alma mater and an English business strategist currently bringing innovation to life in the Cayman islands. And that was just my team.”
A Makeathoner shares an idea with her team.
  • “We began prototyping our digital interface, continuously exploring options to reinforce human factors in our design. Aided by precedents set by existing blockchain applications, we were able to further refine our flow and back-end methodologies at the same time. Our 6-hour project culminated in an experience and interaction installation prototype which demonstrated a new system for secure and transparent democratic voting.”
An example of a prototype coming out of one of our Makeathons.

Does This Sound Like You?

Interesting in exploring the potential of emerging technologies? Want to join us for the next CoLab Fellowship? We periodically open up applications here, or you can sign up to get the latest updates through our email newsletter.


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A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies.

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