Early Edisons

Young inventors' creativity takes USF Innovator Cup



By Vickie Chachere


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 12, 2010) A cup that can hold two separate drinks in one container and a device for picking up errant staples were the big winners in the 2nd Annual Innovation Express Youth Inventors Contest Thursday – an event created to inspire and reward the brightest young innovators in the Tampa Bay region.


Ashley Blessin, a third-grader at Walden Lake Elementary, won the elementary school division with her Two-Way Cupper, a plastic cup divided in two that cuts down on the number of dirty dishes. Luke Anderson, a sixth-grader who is home-schooled through Hillsborough Virtual School, won for the Staple Tank, a device he designed to pick up lost staples safely so they could be disposed of easily.


Their inventions were selected from a field of 10 finalists that included a kindergartener’s invention for magnet that would keep his shoelaces from being untied; a pillow to keep sweaty-headed kids cool at night and designs for a new type of fabric that would allow kids clothes to grow up to six sizes with their owner.


Fittingly, the finals were held at MOSI on Thomas Edison’s birthday.


The event was sponsored by the University of South Florida and judged by panels that included top scientists and Office of Research & Innovation leadership in conjunction with Innovation Express Corporation, a nonprofit entity founded by USF alum Anton Hopen, a patent attorney whose 10-year-old daughter Anna first came up with the idea for a kid’s invention competition.


“This is not a science fair,” Hopen told a crowd of more than 50 for the event at MOSI. “This is a competition that brings science and business together.”


USF Vice President for Research Karen Holbrook and Valerie McDevitt, Assistant Vice President for Patents and Licensing were among a panel of judges which also included infomercial pioneer Kevin Harrington. Paul Sanberg, Associate Vice President for Research & Innovation, and members of the USF Academy of Inventors waded through more than 200 submissions from school children from the eight-county Tampa Bay region.


The USF College of Business provided a workshop for the children on how to present and market their inventions.


“Orange juice and milk? Root beer and chocolate milk? One drink on one side, and one drink on the other!” Ashley exclaimed as she pitched her prototype Two-Way Cupper to the panel of judges, who peppered the young innovators with gentle but tough questions on how’d they price, market and promote their inventions.


“Think about it, if you have four kids that’s four sippy cups. You can cut it down to two,” she proclaimed. “Two-Way Cupper! Two drinks in one and lots of fun!


“Can you put a USF Bulls logo on one side?” Holbrook countered.


Luke’s father, John Anderson, said his son attends virtual school because a severe case of Crohn’s disease would make attending school impossible. Nonetheless, Luke has thrived working at his own pace in virtual school and is endlessly tinkering with tools, circuit kits and small inventions.


Luke told the panel he created the Staple Tank as a way of retrieving staples without hurting his fingers. The device went through several incarnations and was being used around the house when Luke heard about the contest and decided to enter.


Built with levers that allow the magnet to attract the staples and then release them in to a container or the trash can, Luke passed around prototypes to the judges for a hands-on-feel for how his device works.


“He’s soldiered through a lot of difficult times, we’re so proud of him,” John Anderson said. “He always makes a gallant effort.”


The grand prize winners each collected a $1,000 prize for themselves and a $1,000 prize for their schools. Since Luke is home schooled, the award was granted to the Florida Parent Educators Association.


All 10 finalists also received a family membership to MOSI, a $100 gift certificate from Learning Express, a $50 gift certificate from Outback Steakhouse. Outback also awarded a special Top Trademark Award to Alexis Kabougeris Goldberg, a 2nd grader from Dale Mabry Elementary School, for her catch Clutter Gutter name for a device which catches things which fall behind your dresser.


The grand prize winners also will be made honorary members of USF’s Academy of Inventors later this year.


“We have the wonderfully good fortune of working with innovative faculty every day,” Holbrook said. “But innovative faculty comes from innovative youngsters.”



Photos by Joseph Gamble



The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.