When Scouts head off to summer camp in mid-Missouri, there’s a chance they might come home with a new invention and a business plan to match.
Invention Scouts, a Boy Scouts-affiliated program that teaches young people how to brainstorm, design and build about anything they can dream up, has opened a permanent space for campers at Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation.
Situated in a 6,000-square-foot building overlooking the lake, the Sinquefield Invention Lab contains equipment that campers can use to bring their creations to fruition, including a 3-D printer, a robotics lab, woodworking and metalworking stations, multimedia software and fabric machines.
The lab is part of a larger Boy Scouts initiative meant to inspire and teach children and teenagers to innovate, work in a team and think creatively.
The idea for Invention Scouts began in 2012 when philanthropist Jeanne Sinquefield, who is a Scout leader, was visiting with a troop. They wanted to play a game of chess but didn’t have a set nearby. So they came up with the idea for a miniature chess set that can fit in your pocket.
Called Chess2Go, the set is now sold online. But it wouldn’t have existed without access to the right equipment and resources.
“If you provide a space, you’d be surprised at what people can come up with,” Sinquefield said. She and her husband, Rex, have a home in St. Louis and are the founders of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.
When campers arrive at the Invention Lab, they can either come up with their own ideas about what to create, or leaders will challenge them to create something in particular, said the lab’s manager, Brendan Bagby. For instance, a group of Boy Scouts this summer designed and built a miniature bridge after they had been challenged to do so.
Afterward, the boys can create a business plan and marketing material for their new product. If the campers really believe in their creation, Boy Scouts will help them get a patent. Patent ownership would belong to the designer of the product, not Boy Scouts of America.
Access to the lab, which opened last month, has so far been limited to weeklong camps that take place at the reservation over the summer. Campers include the region’s Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and participants in the Exploring and Venturing Clubs, which are co-ed programs for teenagers and preteens.
But Boy Scouts is hoping to open the lab to a more general public when summer camp is not in session.
Doug Callahan, the Scout executive for the Great Rivers Council, said school districts in the area would be able to take field trips to the lab on weekdays in fall and spring. They plan to allow Scouts and nonScouts to take part in lab activities on weekends.
Invention Scouts initially began with two mobile Invention Labs, trailers that brought equipment and workspace to scout troops and public schools. Sinquefield said she donated about $750,000 to fund the program.
Part of the main goal, she said, was to reach out to small rural communities with few resources.
“What you find often is that the kids have never even seen any of the equipment before,” Sinquefield said.
Though the stationary Invention Lab has a wider variety of equipment and more space to work than the trailers do, Boy Scouts will continue using the mobile labs to bring equipment to children who might not have transportation to the Ozarks Scout Reservation.