The sound was deafening. Metal on metal, crunching and slicing. Kids screaming in unison like some kind of giant wave crashing on a beach. The echo of a distorted loudspeaker parsing commentary. The energy was otherworldly too - 1,200 teenagers low on sleep, high on snacks, competing for a chance to head to the USA, where more teenagers were waiting.
This was the FIRST Robotics Regional Finals in 2015 and the beginning of the Blackbird Foundation. Our mission is to supercharge creativity in young people.
When we began working with FIRST, we knew our founders were struggling with a talent shortage in Australia. We knew young people were not rushing to choose STEM subjects at school, and we knew those who wanted to work in start-ups were heading to Silicon Valley.
FIRST Robotics was making STEM fun! We figured if more kids studied engineering and science at school, then they would choose STEM degrees at university and our Founders would be able to hire them.
So we dove right in, attending events, judging competitions, collecting discarded balls in the robot pits. We raised money and we tried to raise the profile of FIRST by inviting our founders and investors to the FIRST regional finals at Homebush.
At first we thought we were helping young people to learn software engineering and electronics. Those were the tactical skills our founders needed and we figured FIRST would help young people acquire those skills.
But FIRST is so much more than that and over the years, we’ve come to realise that those skills are just one small part of the story. FIRST gives kids an identity, a truer sense of themselves. It gives them confidence, makes them unafraid of failure, helps them build social skills and most importantly, gives them purpose.
Four years in and now we know what the real magic of FIRST is: imagination and creativity.