The rundown: Break to Make

This was the second year of running Break to Make, our all-women’s makeathon. We thought we’d share some highlights!

The inception of Break to Make

Break to Make is an all women’s “makeathon” that takes place each fall at the University of Southern California. The idea for Break to Make was conceived in May 2017 when founder Mimi Tran Zambetti identified an issue within the gender disparity in engineering fields.

Mimi grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was part of the robotics club at her all-girls’ high school. It wasn’t difficult for her to find makerspaces to design and prototype her ideas, and her robotics club was a strong support system, which encouraged her to continue ideating and building. However, when she came to USC, Mimi had a difficult time finding open, inclusive makerspaces, especially for women-identifying students interested in science, tech, engineering and math (STEM). Thus, Break to Make was born.

Break to Make aims to combat two main issues: the lack of a accessible makerspaces at USC and the lack of opportunities for women in engineering. According to Joanne McGrath Cohoon, an associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia, “In the U.S., only about 18 percent to 20 percent of engineering students are now women.” And according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, only 14 percent of engineers in the professional field are women. Break to Make helps these woman because its mission is to provide an inclusive and empowering space where women can design and build hardware projects in a collaborative setting.

It wasn’t until early June 2017 that Break to Make officially got its name. Shortly thereafter, the committee got its first sponsor, Oculus. The initial planning team consisted of six members, and once the new school year began in Aug. 2017, one more member was added. At the end of August, the venue was finally locked down in the lobby of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism building. The next month, all funding sponsors and food sponsors were finally confirmed, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Break to Make held the first-ever all women’s makeathon at USC.

The event had 50 participants divided into 12 teams. Each team had two days to design and prototype a product to solve a solution to a posed challenge. The challenges were based on solving issues around education, the environment and open design. After the two days of work, the teams had a pitch competition in front of a panel of judges from various professional design backgrounds. There were various prizes awarded to the winning teams from the internet of things boards to self-balancing robots. The first-place winners last year created a fidget desk that generated energy while keeping students focused. The desk was built with laser cut parts and springs.

This year, Break to Make will be held on Sept. 29th and 30th at The Reef in Los Angeles. This year’s challenge categories remain the same: the environment, education and open design. The pitch competitions will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 30 and the closing ceremony will follow. Panel judges include Morgan Sacco from Athen.LA, Selina Troesch from Touchdown Ventures and Carmen Palafox from Make in LA. Current sponsors include: Sambazon, Sparkfun, Snacknation, RX Bars, Soylent, Makey Makey, Bumble, Intelligent Change, Do Tank Do, Sprinkles Cupcakes, Greenleaf, Pololu, General Assembly, Hobby King, Lyft, Stone Design, and Makers. USC partners include 3D4E, The Viterbi School of Engineering and The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.


For the second year of the makeathon, a dozen teams of four came together at The Reef in Downtown Los Angeles to design a solution to a challenge in one of three categories: environment, education, and open design. Many teams came with little experience in making, and by the end of the weekend had learned how to 3D print their first project or use an IoT board.


The first day included workshops on ideation and prototyping. Participants learned how to create a product with an end-user in mind, and with the help of our mentors, every team had an initial prototype by the end of the first day.

The following day, our makers returned to wrap up their projects and work on their pitches. The afternoon transitioned into the pitch competition, and each team was able to present their work to a panel of judges.

Project briefs


How might we reduce food waste?


How might we make learning more engaging?

Open design

How might we design a solution for a problem in our own community?

Judging panel

  • Carmen Palafox Make in LA
  • Morgan Sacco AthenaLA
  • Selina Troesch Touchdown Ventures

Workshops and project highlights



  • Sambazon
  • Stone design
  • Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
  • Hobby King
  • Pololu Robotics & Electronics
  • Sparkfun Electronics
  • Lyft
  • General Assembly
  • Kaldi Coffee
  • Bumble
  • Intelligent Change
  • Makey Makey
  • Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop
  • Snacknation
  • Soylent
  • ban.dō
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes