Mikayla Stokes - Look for the Problem!
If you’re looking for a brilliant idea to enter into Skills Bright Sparks Competition, “STOP!” says Mikayla Stokes.
That, she says, is not what you should be looking for. Instead, turn your attention to looking for a problem.
And she might just know what she’s talking about. Mikayla has been named a Skills Bright Sparks Ambassador for 2019 after winning the Bright Sparks Competition twice – once in 2016 and again, last year, in 2018 – and, in the process, become known as one of New Zealand’s up-and-coming science and technology inventors.
“It’s honestly not actually coming up with an idea,” says Mikayla. “It’s coming up with a problem. Because you can come up with a crazy brilliant idea, but if it doesn’t have a purpose or solve a problem, then what is the point?
“Every single project I have come up with, was solving people’s everyday problems. What I find is if you analyse different parts of both your own and other people’s lives, that’s the key to finding a good problem. And then building something to solve this.”
Think like an entrepreneur
Mikayla, who is now in her first year at the University of Auckland studying a Bachelor of Engineering, describes herself as a science communicator and entrepreneur. And she believes thinking like an entrepreneur also helps when it comes to inventing.
“While I was coming up with my inventions, I realised that you are actually engineering a product for a problem, which will be used by real people, your customers. So, as an entrepreneur, for whatever I am building or inventing, I think ‘how can I make it better and solve my customer’s problem?’
“So, try seeing your idea as more of a product to help someone. Why would they buy it? What is the purpose of the product? What makes this better than any other solution that is currently out there?”
An example of solving a customer problem was Mikayla’s 2018 Bright Sparks project – an automated vertical garden that could be controlled through a smartphone app, called My Vege Wall. The garden incorporates an automated hydroponics system which maintains the pH and nutrient levels of the plants. It was designed for apartment dwellers, or those with minimal space and time to house a full garden.
It won Mikayla the Overall Female Award for Bright Sparks 2018 and a regional Young Entrepreneur of the Year award – as well as offers to buy the business concept.
It’s a learning process
But even though Mikayla’s My Vege Wall involves a wide understanding of elements of physics, biology and technology, she is quick to point out that she certainly didn’t start out with all the answers when she began her project.
“The whole point of the project is that it is a learning experience,” she says. “So, don’t expect that you need to know everything and have all the answers – in fact, you probably haven’t learnt half of it yet – but you will learn new technical skills as you go along. These are all really useful skills to learn.”
It’s also a fallacy that you must be a rocket scientist – or top of the class in all your school subjects – to enter a competition like Skills Bright Sparks.
“Back in primary school, I sucked at math, I wasn’t good at science, I wasn’t good at anything,” says Mikayla. “But I went from failing at school to building robots that were bigger than I was. Because it is by making these projects that you learn these incredible skills.
“Bright Sparks helped me turn down the entrepreneurial road because it gave me the ability to create products to solve people’s real problems. I realised that this kind of entrepreneurship is what I really love doing. I got that desire from just doing it, and trying and testing my ideas, and not being afraid to fail.”