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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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'Makercon' shines light on Tampa area inventors

TAMPA — Children and adults converged this weekend for what organizers called “a science fair on steroids.”

The annual “Makercon,” an event celebrating innovation and creativity in the Tampa Bay area, continues today at the special events center at the Florida State Fairgrounds. About 100 people were there Saturday to watch blacksmith demonstrations, robot competitions and 3-D printing exhibitions.

“The idea is that we want to celebrate creative production instead of passive consumption,” said Terri Willingham, who has organized the event for the past three years.

Attendees perused more than 30 booths displaying items such as custom movie props, chemistry experiments, and fur hats and accessories — all done by local scientists, inventors and hobbyists. In the center of the room, people drove around in a motorized chair or watched robot battles in a fiberglass case.

“We want to celebrate this act of creation,” Willingham said. “This is the ultimate project-based learning.”

Makercon is meant to be fun and inspiring for everyone who attends, she said. Every exhibitor does their craft on their own time, and for many it is how they support themselves.

The event shows children and adults they can be creative, follow their passions and support themselves by doing so, Willingham said.

If the Tampa Bay area wants to compete with innovation centers such as Silicon Valley or Boston, there needs to be more events like Makercon to connect local inventors, said Wayne Rosanen, president of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council.

“We have to bring a new wave of people together,” he said.

Events like Makercon show there are a lot of innovative people in the area, he said.

“Why not develop that potential that's here and bring people together to enhance it?” Rosanen said.

Jak Plihal brought his three children to see the exhibits Saturday afternoon. They watched the robots fight before wandering to other booths throughout the room.

His children are home-schooled, Plihal said, so this was a way to have fun and learn at the same time. The demonstrations and projects engage them, rather than just entertain them.

“They come here and they get ideas and then they go do those things themselves,” he said. “We need more of that.”

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Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO

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