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Congratulations to Makerspace lab manager Steven Bleau who, alongside his business partner Morgan Kerfeld, won first place and received $50,000 in the 2024 Heartland Challenge start-up competition earlier this April. Their start-up business, Telo, is developing assistive walking devices with integrated technology.

Makerspaces were vital to Telo’s creation and success. The original prototyping for Telo’s signature walker design occurred at Twin Cities Maker in south Minneapolis, while much of the University was closed due to the pandemic. “It was my first time having access to a full makerspace,” Steven noted, saying that using a makerspace allowed them access to equipment they didn’t have funds for, let them prototype rapidly, and embedded them in a community of makers, the latter of which Steven found especially crucial: “I was able to learn skills I hadn’t learned previously from the people around me.”

Telo, as part of the Entrepreneurship in Action course, also had access to resources to break into the start-up community, including mentorship and coaching. Having returned to the University now as a graduate student and a staff member, Steven has utilized his knowledge to inspire future innovators on campus. “This year’s Entrepreneurship in Action batch is very product-focused, more so than any other year. Hosting them in the Makerspace and passing on knowledge that I learned allowed them to get functional prototypes built themselves, without any prior background in digital prototyping, so that they could test out various projects.”

The true joy of the Libraries Makerspaces, though, is that anyone on campus can utilize them and the expertise of staff, and that’s where Steven really hopes to build in the future. “Bringing all the stuff that I learned on my own back then, we’re building a curriculum around making and really giving people insight on how to go from an idea to a manufacturable prototype,” said Steven about initiatives like the Maker Bootcamp coming this summer. “It’s free to do these things in the Libraries Makerspaces, and we’re giving people the creative confidence to take an idea they have, regardless of their academic background, and take action on it in a meaningful way.”

Every day, the Libraries Makerspace staff see students using the space in creative ways, from garments made of custom-designed fabrics to anatomical models for patient education. Steven hopes that his efforts and Telo’s success will inspire other creators to seek out competitions to further their goals. “Ultimately we’d like to see Minnesota and Minneapolis to be even more of a leader in innovation than we already are, and that really starts on an undergraduate level,” Steven said. “We want to see the University of Minnesota competing at a high level at all these competitions every year.”

Emerson Ironstone

Author Emerson Ironstone

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