Innovation of the Year

Having spent years thinking about architecture, teaching pedagogy, and raising and homeschooling their boys, Heather and Michael Acerra set out to design a “better block”—a construction toy that would build things in the same way nature does. After hundreds of 3D-printed prototypes and thousands of pieces tested by neighborhood kids, they settled on a final design. Working with a plastic manufacturer and other partners to market the product, the couple brought LUX Blox to the world.

A revolutionary way to teach kids (and adults) about nature’s design principles, LUX links together instead of stacking—allowing it to bend, flex and move like no other construction toy. Not only is the design totally unique, they’re genuinely fun to build with—and users can make everything from simple to very complex structures and machines. These qualities are reinforced every time they go to a makers fair, children’s museum or trade show and get outside feedback.

“We have had parents try to bribe their kids away from our play table with offers of ice cream or pizza, and be refused!” Heather says. “We love that we can appeal to kids who just want a cool car or spaceship, and yet we can model some of the most exciting discoveries in cell structure research, like the endoplasmic reticulum.”

The Acerras participated in Bradley University’s Senior Consulting Project and worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to learn how to effectively pitch to investors. Bradley’s Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) helped them register as a vendor to secure government contracts, and the Illinois SBDC International Trade Center (ITC) is now helping them identify international distributors.

Currently, the Acerras are filming instructional videos for teachers to support STEM learning projects, and working with therapists on videos to address physical and cognitive therapy needs. They are also excited to be working with Bradley’s Center for STEM Education on research to support the use of LUX in reinforcing classroom learning.

In the future, they hope to partner with more local schools, hospitals and other organizations to get LUX into more hands. “We have been dabbling with motorized LUX, as well as a virtual reality builder,” Michael adds. “We think VR would be a great way to bridge the gamer culture with the builder culture we want to promote.” PM