A Detroit Mom’s Quest to Breathe Innovation Into Young Minds

12/23/11Follow @XconomyDET

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the question of why we need to learn science, technology, and math.”

The board is made up of spaces in the shape of the infinity symbol. Players roll the dice and, according to the space they land on, pay or collect a patent licensing fee, buy a patent if it’s not already owned by another player, purchase research corporations, increase wealth through stock explosions, or spend additional time in the Research Lab to find more inventions. Players also draw from a deck of cards describing the price and history of various accidental inventions such as saccharine and Google.

Along the way, players manage stock portfolios and venture funds, and draw Risk & Reward cards (one card reads, “Nuclear fusion experiment goes bad. Advance to Gas Mask. Lose $50 mil. Do not pass Idea Incubator.”) If a player runs out of money, they’re declared bankrupt and the game ends. Whoever has the most valuable portfolio wins the game and the designation of Best Corporate Executive.

“We’re just replicating life,” Byrd-Hill says of the game’s focus on building a portfolio instead of simply accumulating cash, like in Monopoly. “Everyone has the ability to commercialize an idea and turn it into a billion-dollar fluke.”

Although the game currently retails at $100 because it’s still in the prototype stage, Byrd-Hill has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for factory production, which will bring the cost of each game down to $30. One day, she hopes to manufacture Fluke right in the riverfront Detroit neighborhood she lives in. She admits to feeling frustrated with how slowly the Kickstarter campaign has taken off, which she attributes it to her location.

“I have a friend in Seattle, and he’s always trying to convince me to move there,” she says. “In Seattle, people are open to big ideas because they happen all the time. In Detroit, we fight against the mindset that we’re not going to pull it off.”

Though Byrd-Hill created her game with children in mind, she hopes that it also becomes an economic development and corporate training tool. She thinks that, right now, corporations are doing a disservice by neglecting to cultivate innovation in their lower ranks. The employees who are slogging away in cubicles or answering phones are the people on the front lines dealing with customers and the public, she points out, and those are the people in any company who should be empowered to test solutions to problems and share their ideas for how to make the business run better.

“Companies tend not to make investments in lower wage employees, but if we can get entire companies innovating from the bottom up, that will revolutionize corporate America,” Byrd-Hill says. “Innovation isn’t always planned. Innovation is the freedom to make accidents that solve problems.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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