Caster Concepts tech education nonprofit celebrates robotics team victory at international competition

ALBION, MIN.E.R.D Spark, the first-year robotics team of the Caster Concepts Inc. nonprofit, Innovate Albion, clinched first place in its division at FIRST Championship, an international robotics competition in Houston with more than 18,000 students from 59 countries.  

N.E.R.D (Nuclear Exploding Rubber Ducks) Spark defeated 77 teams in its inaugural trip to the elite robotics world competition. Apart from first-place honors, the team received the Rookie All-Star Award and the Rookie High Seed Award for its division.  

“Our performance at worlds was outstanding,” said Innovate Albion Executive Director Caroline Hurteau. “We went in knowing we had a very capable robot and a capable team. It’s a high-stress competition with hundreds of teams representing schools and communities worldwide. Winning a division the first time out is incredible.” 

Innovate Albion (, the largest STEM training nonprofit for kids grades K-12 in Southwest Michigan, formed the robotics team in December 2022, recruiting 24 high school students. The team, half the size of most robotics clubs, features 14 boys and 10 girls. The club built its first competition robot in six weeks, just in time to compete in the 2023 robotics season, which spans a little more than two months.  

N.E.R.D Spark performed well in regional events in Michigan and earned the Rookie All-Star Award at FIRST in Michigan State Competition, which propelled the fledgling robotics team to the world championships. Innovate Albion and team members’ families raised funds to pay for the team’s competition registration fees, which topped $12,000 for its first robotics season.  

“The team’s success is a badge of honor that will help us find the sponsors and grant money to expand our programs and build an even stronger robotics program,” Hurteau said.  

Innovate Albion aims to double the size of the robotics team to match the strength and size of clubs in Michigan. The state is known for having a strong robotics presence in the U.S. and internationally. The team’s success will likely cement the nonprofit as a leading STEM education center where young kids and teens can hone their coding, robotics, engineering and leadership skills. 

The center, founded by Caster Concepts, an industrial manufacturer in Albion, partners with the Marshall School District to develop STEM programs for elementary schools and offers classes and robotics testing space for area teams year-round.          

About Innovate Albion

Innovate Albion is a teaching and training center for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and robotics in Southwest Michigan. As a nonprofit organization founded in collaboration with Caster Concepts, Inc. and Conceptual Innovations, we bring together students, educators and professionals to build the next generation of skilled talent in our region. Visit 

About N.E.R.D Spark

Founded in December 2022, N.E.R.D Spark is the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team for Innovate Albion. The team seeks to promote students’ interest in math, science, manufacturing and engineering. The training allows young minds to thrive and excel in our increasingly technological environment and global economy. Visit 


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