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Behind the NIHF Scenes

The Collegiate Inventors Competition: 3 Decades of Inspiration

The Collegiate Inventors Competition® (CIC) began in 1990 to encourage and reward innovation at the collegiate level. Three decades later, CIC continues to evolve in new and exciting ways.

As CIC celebrates its 30th anniversary, we take a look back at the competition’s formative years and share how today’s students can benefit from this transformative experience.


A Look Back

CIC held its first competition in Akron, Ohio, at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Museum. Since then, both the competition and the NIHF Museum have moved to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

For its duration, CIC has welcomed students from across the country to participate in an invention competition unlike any other. Finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the final round of the competition where they present their work to a panel of Hall of Fame Judges and special guests. After Finalists make their presentations, Judges deliberate and select winners for the Undergraduate and Graduate categories.

Over the years, Finalists have used their experience at CIC to springboard innovative careers. Steve Katsaros, CEO of Nokero and a 1995 CIC winner, gained the confidence and entrepreneurial insights needed to start his own company after participating in the competition. 

"It was through [CIC and NIHF] that I learned the fundamentals of marketing, finance, design, and execution," he said. "I had offers from companies like Boeing right out of school, but with that knowledge, I knew I was going to strike out and do my own thing."

Katsaros’ CIC invention had been an overhead bike storage rack. He has since moved on to more humanitarian pursuits, founding Nokero in 2010 to manufacture affordable solar lights and products for the developing world. His work is an example of how experience can inform new ideas and spark the inspiration necessary to help change the world.  


The CIC Evolution

Though dates and locations for the event have changed over the years, the CIC experience has remained distinctive for Finalists.

In recent years, new features like the CIC Expo have enabled Finalists to share their work publicly with USPTO officials and patent examiners, and other attendees. A People’s Choice Award prize was added in 2017, allowing the public to vote in the days leading up to and during the Expo for their favorite invention. Additionally, Finalists have the chance to network with the NIHF Inductees who judged their presentations during a sit-down Awards Dinner at the end of the competition. This experience allows Finalists to learn about the Inductees’ innovation journeys and seek advice on their own inventions, enabling them to build strong foundations for future success.

Finalists’ stories and connections don’t necessarily end when the competition does. CIC participants are becoming more involved in NIHF-related initiatives each year. 2013 Finalist Arlyne Simon visited a Camp Invention® site in 2019 as part of a campaign to get more girls involved in STEM. 2019 Finalist Lia Winter collaborated with NIHF on a recent white paper that discussed the prototyping process. Going forward, Finalists will also have the chance to become student ambassadors at their universities to help inform their peers about all that CIC has to offer.


Taking Invention to the Next Level

As many CIC Finalists will tell you, innovation is not something you start and stop. Rather, it’s a lifelong journey. Becoming a CIC Finalist empowers students to take the next step on their innovative paths. Through experiences like CIC, the bright minds of today are being recognized for inventions that will help create a better future.

Students can learn more about the competition and get started on their application today.

Don’t forget to check out the video below!


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