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The Maker Community

The maker community is a contemporary subculture, representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. The New York Times called makers, ‘kitchen table industrialists’.

Typical interests enjoyed by the maker subculture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, 2D plotter cutting, waterjet cutting, and the use of CNC tools (even applied to embroidery), as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. The whole print-on-demand industry is another example, where authors can produce books even one at a time.

The subculture stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.

TJ McCue who writes about makers says, “We will move beyond Do-It-Yourself (DIY) to Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) because collaboration, not competition, is the way of now, and of the future. Competition will always exist, of course. And sometimes you have to work alone, too. But the opportunity to collaborate with people smarter than you (as in yourself) is paramount. Some people prefer Do-It-Together (DIT) and that works, too.”

Personal Fabricators

Personal fabrication devices allow people to manufacture custom objects on-demand. Imagine a world in which a meal, a replacement part a customized toy, and nearly any other conceivable object is just a few clicks away.

Fabbers are universal fabrication machines which materialize three-dimensional things from digital data, typically by “baking” some amorphous, fine-grained material to allow for the constructing of things which are difficult to create otherwise.

Personal Fabrication has the potential to change the way things are made and sold. Mass customization requires a front end solution that allows the customer to configure their product, but also requires specialized machinery to execute those designs. Many people think 3D printers are the way this will happen, but there are half a dozen other amazing technologies that allow people to make anything they can imagine.


The rise of the maker subculture is closely associated with the rise of hackerspaces, of which there are now over 100 in the United States. Hackerspaces allow like-minded individuals to share ideas, tools, and skillsets. In addition, those who identify with the subculture can be found at more traditional universities with a technical orientation. As maker subculture becomes more popular, hackerspaces are becoming more common in universities. Make has a growing inventory of hackerspaces. An even more extensive list is at Hackerspaces.

Maker Faires

Thousands of people turn out for large and small events around the world that are oriented at inspiring and enabling makers, hackers, inventors, small business owners, and entrepreneurs. The first one was organized by the founder of Make magazine, there are now maker fairs and mini versions of them all over the world.

Another outgrowth of Make magazine is Maker Shed. Take a look at all sorts of tools, gizmos, kits–even home-brew kits.

Entrepreneur Makers

The maker culture enables many aspiring entrepreneurs who want to produce things, to do just that themselves, at least to get started with their business. So often I have encountered people with great manufacturing ideas. Ian Schon‘s pen is an example. I’d call him an artisan or a personal businessman, but he’s been so successful, I’d guess he’s on his way to entrepreneurship.

One maker turned entrepreneur is DODOcase, whose philosophy is simple: manufacture things locally and help keep the art of book binding alive and well by adapting it to a world of e-readers and iPads. TechShop in Menlo Park, CA is where was also where they started manufacturing their laser-cut bamboo iPad cases, now a multi-million dollar business.

TechShop is a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make.

Hybrid Incubator-Accelerator-Makerplace

Lemnos Labs, a hardware incubator based in San Francisco, provides mentorship and resources to talented engineers with innovative ideas and a passion for making things. It’s a kind of hybrid place and they consider any innovative technology that involves moving atoms or electrons. They believe that the same core product development principles apply to a wide range of industries. Their entrepreneurs typically have backgrounds in mechanical, electrical and aerospace engineering, but a well-rounded team also includes some software expertise as well.

They also  typically invest up to $100K in exchange for a 2-10% equity stake. Their terms are based on the stage of the company, the experience of the founders and the amount of previously raised money. The main advantage is the availability of warehouse-type space, with a range of tools, a bunch of like-minded engineering types at pre-seed or just-seed stage of business life. There;s access to legal and other professional help and mentors who have been-there-done-that.

Lemnos Labs is not far from TechShop, which is a playground for creativity. There’s something there for everyone. Part fabrication and prototyping studio, part hackerspace, part learning center, TechShop offers access to over $1 million worth of professional equipment and software. They provide comprehensive instruction and expert staff  to ensure you have a meaningful and rewarding experience. Most importantly, TechShop is a hub where you can explore the world of making with the motivational support of a vibrant and creative community.

Make-it-Yourself + Learn-for-Yourself + Fund-it-Yourself

The Maker movement allows people to manufacture products themselves on a micro-scale and at speeds which were unheard of when a startup wanted to have someone make products, by setting up a factory or subcontracting.

Makers, business incubators and accelerators are now joined by (i) the ability to learn what you need to do, rather than going to someone else to get things done and (ii) the ability to find funding on your own, too.

Many professionals have become too expensive and inflexible for many entrepreneurs, so there’s no reason not to learn (quickly) how to do things yourself.

The classical startup funding process involves financiers and bankers. But that’s no longer completely necessary, with the advent of crowdfunding and other forms of social lending and investing.

Crowdfunding platform, Indigogo has funded a Canadian StartUp, Photon, who are making what they claim is the world’s first affordable desktop 3-D scanner. For under $500 users will be able to scan either objects they have made, for example in clay, or others that they have acquired.

Example Makers

There are thousands of makers, probably tens of thousands, but to give you some idea about business operating in the field, here are a few:

Fab@Home is a platform of printers and programs which can produce functional 3D objects. It is designed to fit on a desktop and within reasonable budgets. Fab@Home is supported by a global, open-source community of professionals and hobbyists, innovating tomorrow, today. Hod Lipson and Evan Malone of the Cornell University Computational Synthesis Laboratory began Fab@Home project in 2006.

OpenROV is a Do It Yourself telerobotics community centered around underwater exploration and education. We have developed a low-cost telerobotic submarine that can be built with mostly off-the-shelf parts. The goal of OpenROV is to democratize exploration by allowing anyone to explore and study underwater environments.

Makerbot produces a 3-D replicator–check it out. Makerbot Industries started out in 2009, but now after attracting seed money, angel investors these kitchen table industrialists attracted $10 million in VC money in 2011.

3D Systems provides 3D content-to-print solutions including personal, professional and production 3D printers, integrated print materials and on-demand custom parts services for professionals and consumers alike.

Desktop Factory has the goal of making 3D printing as common in offices, factories, schools and homes as laser printers are today. Just as desktop publishing exploded as prices dropped and laser printers became ubiquitous, so too will new uses for 3D printing emerge as devices become inexpensive and widely available.

Bespoke Innovations™, Inc. was founded in 2009 by an Industrial Designer and an Orthopedic Surgeon whose mission was to bring more humanity to people who have congenital or traumatic limb loss. Take a look!

Affordable Desktop 3-D Printers

The Rapide One takes the biscuit, I’d say. And what an attractive looking beast too. I only wish I had an application! Take a look at this product on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site.


PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

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