Innovation Challenge team builds bridge. Support a ball bearing on a structure your team built in just over an hour – easier said than done. 

This was the challenge 14 teams, made up of 66 students from a variety of schools and colleges, attempted during the 2019 ELP and TechLab Innovation Challenge, the entrepreneurial game that challenges participants to design, build, plan and execute, utilizing teamwork and networking. 

The challenge was difficult – build a structure with specific specifications in 75 minutes that could support a ball bearing that had to travel at least three inches from the structure’s edge, all with materials purchased by earning trivia question points – but the students rose to the occasion. 

Innovation Challenge student participants.

Of the 14 teams competing, 12 were able to build a stable bridge to hold a rolling ball bearing. This was no small feat considering the available building materials were unconventional to say the least – spaghetti, marshmallows, paper straws, tape, rubber bands and solo cups to name a few. 

The structures were impressive and the team pitches did not disappoint – “Our bridge is like if American Ninja Warrior and Cirque du Soleil had a baby.” 

One team, who was particularly nervous about the stability of their structure, harkened back to the CFE montra of Try, Fail, Risk, Do. 

“Try – we definitely tried doing this really hard; risk – we absolutely risked this design;  fail – we will get to that later, maybe; do – look at that it worked!” 

In the end, the winning team proved everything comes in threes, except for team members. The four person team – James Boyce (EECS Junior), Jack Wu (CS Sophomore), Eugene Tsai. (CS Junior), and Jacob Abraham (LSA undeclared Sophomore) – decided to take the unconventional approach and created a three pronged structure topped with a triangular flat surface. 

“Who said a bridge could only go two ways, with our bridge you can travel three ways,” Eugene said. “All of our ideas meshed together.” 

While answering trivia questions, building stable structures, and supporting the ball bearing were all key elements of this challenge – it all came down to teamwork for each of the 14 teams. Doing well, while also striving to help others was the true theme of this year’s Innovation Challenge.