The Next Generation Advisory Board called for events to be "relevant and independent to draw its own path." The group would have to find a way to finance its own activities, he said, adding that "begging for money" from headquarters and the groups, like divisions and sections, was not the answer.
"But if you develop your own product and you sell it, then you're in control of your own destiny," he said.
Soon, the framework for what was wanted evolved: a desire to create a "product" — an activity, event or service — that was "different, creative, innovative and fun," Gomez said.
"And most important, that would cater to young professionals and students and to the pillars of our society — the transfer of knowledge and information, networking and mentoring. And it had to generate funds for NGAB."
In 2013, Gomez sought help from a longtime collaborator, Everett von Frank, and they began exchanging ideas about how to adapt a Colombian-style scavenger hunt for SPE. The first Plastics Race was held at the 2014 Antec in Las Vegas.
They used paper and pencil. Racers went on a structured visit to the Las Vegas Strip while competing for prizes donated by several companies and SPE groups. Race teams ventured to the Strip to solve more than 50 plastics-related riddles that could only be solved by closely observing the buildings, structures, neon signs and multiple objects. One example was a riddle located in the large obelisk in front of the Luxor Hotel.
The first race drew close to 100 participants.
The positive feedback led von Frank and Gomez to produce a race using new technology. They met almost daily to plan the 2015 event. After a review of available apps, Gomez said, it was clear that none met the functionality required to make the race successful. So the two men engaged an engineering team in India, which enthusiastically helped produce one.
"I convinced SPE to invest in it and also some of the divisions and sections to help," he said.
The second Plastics Race was run at Antec 2015, which was co-located with NPE at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. The race took six hours, as participants visited exhibitor booths. There were 120 participants and a higher number of sponsoring companies.
SPE had planned to a Plastics Race at Antec last year but had to cancel because of technical problems.
As technology has advanced, one of the biggest challenges is creating questions that cannot be found through Google. That's a lot of work, Gomez said.
"But thanks to the collaboration of a dedicated team of four young professionals over the past years, we have developed about 200 questions that span 15 categories, each with questions of three degrees of difficulty," he said. Most are multiple choice.
"If it showed up in Google, then they would edit it and change it until it was not," Gomez said.
He said the app has the ability to include a picture with the questions — and this year, for the first time, videos.
"That makes it very difficult to Google," Gomez said.
What's new for the Plastics Race at Antec 2017? Gomez said organizers listened to both sponsors and participants and shortened the race to just two hours. Also, it will run from noon to 2 p.m. to avoid overlapping with other Antec events.
SPE owns the Plastics Race, and now the society is licensing the race system to other trade associations. SPE Managing Director Russell Broome promoted the race at a meeting of the Plastics Association Leaders group. "It was a done deal from there," Gomez said.
The first SPE-licensed race was run at the Composites and Advanced Materials Expo in Los Angeles last year. Gomez said CAMX wants to run a second race this year.