Getting the Fit Right

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The growing Maker Movement across the United States has promising implications for expanding entrepreneurship and, ultimately, local economies. As cities strive to support entrepreneurs and makers, leaders are coming to understand that entrepreneurship and making are not uniform endeavors. Instead, they are processes, defined by stages through which individuals move.

Understanding the differences among entrepreneurs and makers allows cities to target support to those at different stages, resulting in the creation of a robust ecosystem. This was the message nearly 50 mayors and senior staff heard at the Kauffman Foundation’s second-annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship in Louisville, Ky.

The Entrepreneurial Process

The Kauffman Foundation’s Startup Act for the States includes a helpful framework to understand the stages of the entrepreneurial process (the same concept can be applied to makers). The guide begins with readying entrepreneurs for success and moves through the launching and growth of firms.

Starting a company and growing a business are both entrepreneurial acts but distinctly different things. As such, entrepreneurs need different types of support at each stage of the journey from idea, to business creation, and subsequent growth.

Likewise, makers also need different programs and spaces that match their current skill level and interests while providing opportunities to grow. Several programs and initiatives to support makers from the point of discovery to application were discussed at the Mayors Conference.

What Do Makers Need? 

Pre-making and early-stage makers

3D printing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of libraries, but public libraries across the country are increasingly creating makerspaces in their buildings. Free and open to all, public libraries can be an entry point to making, allowing children and adults to explore new tools and technology.

Erica Compton, project coordinator for the Idaho Commission for Libraries, said at the Mayors Conference that the state’s Make It at the Library project sought to change the “paradigm of library as grocery store, to library as kitchen” so that patrons were not “just taking things off the shelves,” but were engaged in acts of creating and building.

Just as libraries can introduce people to making and help them develop new skills, so too can mobile makerspaces. Like the bookmobile in the town I grew up in (pictured below), the MakerMobile is one example of a makerspace on wheels, bringing the tools and technology of a makerspace to people in the greater Louisville area.

These mobile makerspaces have the ability to reach under-served and mobility-restricted populations, exposing more people to the maker movement.

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CAPTION: Book mobiles are models for how cities can mobilize makerspaces and reach diverse populations.

Advanced Makers

Makers with more experience or those who already possess certain technical skills likely need more resources and tools than those provided by a library or “maker mobile.”

Guests at the Mayors Conference heard from Alexander Bandar, who founded and runs the world’s largest makerspace, the Columbus Idea Foundry.

According to Alex, about half of the Columbus Idea Foundry’s members identify as entrepreneurs or want to become entrepreneurs. These makers have advanced beyond making as a hobby and have developed or plan to build businesses.

The breadth of tools, course offerings, and resident experts and entrepreneurs at the Columbus Idea Foundry match the needs of these more advanced makers with support to further hone and apply their skills.

Advanced makers can also benefit from initiatives like FirstBuild. This collaboration between GE Appliances, Local Motors, and the Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville opened GE’s innovation process to the community so that new products can be developed through collaboration.

This model serves those at the end of the maker journey and demonstrates how existing businesses and makers can work together in a mutually-beneficial way.

What Do You Think?

A comprehensive understanding of the process makers and entrepreneurs go through will allow cities to target support programming and policies to match the needs of those at all points along the journey.

Are there parts of the maker process that are not served by these institutions or programs? What other types of support are needed? How does your city facilitate the growth of makers and entrepreneurs? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section.

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