AURORA -- Aiden Owens is a typical 12-year-old. He just finished sixth-grade at Harmon Middle School, liked hiking the best at camp and is really looking forward to summer.
When he starts talking about 3D modeling and design engineering, though, he is anything but a typical 12-year-old. He started his own business -- Afidgety -- where he designs, creates and sells fidget spinners.
He explains that fidget spinners are "toys to help keep your mind focused." Educators and scientists all have different theories these days as to whether fidget spinners help with ADHD, anxiety or nervous energy like the advertisements proclaim.
Aiden's mom Patty said they are not focused on those theories though. For Aiden, fidget spinners have ignited a new love of self-directed learning. Doors to an exciting world of design, entrepreneurship and engineering were flung open all because of a YouTube video and a tiny toy with bearings.
It all began last President's Day weekend. Patty said Aiden had a friend over and she told them not to get into trouble. Instead, the friends decided to try to make their own fidget spinner.
Aiden heads to his desk and pulls out several of his early designs, including the very first one he made. It has bearings from his skateboard and bolts all held together with zip ties.
"I watched a video on YouTube and then changed the design," he said, explaining that he switched out nuts for some of the other bearings. Aiden was helping in the office at Harmon when the next piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Educational consultant Stephanie DeMichele of the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, was waiting for a fax and saw Aiden and his friend playing with the fidget spinners they made. "It was rough," she said. "They explained how they made them and how they were working on bettering the design."
DeMichele had just been on a college visit with her son to Case Western Reserve University and told Aiden about think[box], a place for brainstorming and business planning that includes some pretty cool pieces of equipment and is open to students, staff and community members.
"Not only do they have mentors there to help you with design, but they also have a marketing and entrepreneurship program," she said.
With laser cutters, 3D printers and 3D modeling software, think[box] opened up a whole new world for Aiden. With a little help from the college students there, Aiden taught himself how to use CorelDraw and designed a fidget spinner made out of plywood. He used the laser cutter there to cut out his designs.
This is exactly the type of learning that DeMichele likes to see. "I am a huge advocate of trying to get students to find and pursue their own learning," she said. "It's called design thinking. What I do in my job is try to ask questions to get teachers to be more reflective. Aiden was constantly reflective. He was always asking, 'how can I do this better?'"
Some of Aiden's profits from early sales went toward purchasing a 3D printer that he now uses for many of his spinners. He makes sure all the settings are correct before starting it up. The printer begins layering yellow filament on the print bed and one of Aiden's newest designs begins to take shape.
"I use Cura to model everything and then put in the specs," he says. "I really like the design part."
The fidget spinner taking shape on the printer is not a typical design. Aiden has added steel balls to the outer edges and special caps to the bearings. He estimates it takes about 30 minutes to produce one.
"Usually I'll print about four at a time and that will take a couple hours," he added.
His mom is happy to see the troubleshooting and learning opportunities that pop up during the process. If something isn't working, Aiden needs to figure out how to make things better.
"He wanted to put his friend's name on one and it came out backwards," Patty said. "He needed to figure out how to correct it."
With his designs in hand, Aiden attended Celebrate Young Entrepreneurs Day at University School and was able to sell some of his fidget spinners there. He also attended Beachwood High's Noise Expo and is selling fidget spinners at Abigail's Accessories in town and on Etsy.
He is not afraid to promote his business and he estimates he has sold about 150 so far. While his designs come in a multitude of colors, Aiden says green is his most popular color.
His mom is incredibly encouraged by the entrepreneurship opportunities inNortheast Ohio. "Kids are now digital natives," she says. "They just grow up knowing how to do stuff that we've never done."
With business booming, Aiden, a third baseman on his travel baseball team, will take a little break to head to Cooperstown this summer for a baseball tournament. Entrepreneurship skills he has learned through his business have come in handy for raising money for the trip.
DeMichele sees great things in Aiden's future. "Aiden has a passion and drive," she says. "That's what you want to see manifest itself in learners."
With so many exciting opportunities, Aiden is happy to focus on Afidgety for now before he decides what his next exciting opportunity will be. Visit Aiden's etsy shop is at www.etsy.com/shop/afidgety.