For as long as she can remember, Lily Born, 12, of Skokie has been designing and making things.
She started out “making the most ridiculous inventions in the world,” she recalls—like the “nose pillow,” a tiny pillow for resting one’s nose.
Then, when Lily was about 8, she noticed that her paternal grandfather’s Parkinson’s disease made him prone to knocking over glasses and spilling his drinks. “I thought he needed something more stable that wouldn’t tip over,” she says.
From this realization, the Kangaroo Cup was born. Lily sketched out a few designs for a tip-proof, no-spill cup, eventually settling on a model with three equal-sized legs. (The product name refers to a kangaroo’s use of its tail as a sort of third leg for stability when jumping.)
With encouragement from her dad, Joe Born, a consumer electronics developer, she brought the idea to life. In 2012, thanks to Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns that raised a total of about $20,000, Lily introduced her invention to the masses. Under the brand name Imagiroo.com, Lily and Joe released the first Kangaroo Cup, a ceramic version made in China. They’ve sold about 2,000 cups to date.
But the designers weren’t satisfied, so they launched a second Kickstarter campaign in 2014. Now, with more than $62,000 in funding, they’re about to release a BPA-free plastic Kangaroo Cup manufactured in the U.S. The new-and-improved version is stackable and more durable than its predecessor. Designed for use on uneven surfaces such as grass, the sturdy cup is ideal for kids who’ve outgrown sippy cups or anyone prone to spilling. So far, more than 11,000 plastic Kangaroo Cups have been pre-ordered.
As for grandpa: “He loves it,” Lily says, noting that it’s now the only cup he uses.
Lily’s invention has garnered her national attention. She received the Young Wonder Award at the “CNN Heroes” tribute in 2014 and participated in the 2015 White House Science Fair. Lily also now travels around the country giving presentations as an ambassador with Independent Youth, a nonprofit that empowers teens to become business leaders and entrepreneurs.
“What she’s doing is amazing,” says Tanya Hamilton, Independent Youth’s founder and executive director. “She doesn’t think like a typical kid. She’s aware of all that she’s capable of accomplishing.”
What’s most surprising about all this notoriety is that Lily used to be incredibly shy. “I was the shyest kid in class,” she says. “Then I started the cup and realized this is going to be a big thing, so I’m going to have to get over that.” While she maybe less shy, she seems to have retained her humility. Asked whether she envisions herself working as an inventor 20 years from now, Lily replies, “I don’t want to focus too much on that. I would like to be a product designer, but right now I just want to be a kid.”
This article is part of our Incredible Kids series. Find more profiles here: