The Maker movement is taking the world by storm, allowing people from all walks of life to start inventing innovative new tools and products. A culture of technology-oriented DIY that has grown up around the areas of engineering, computer science, and graphic design encourages anyone with a great idea and the desire to start a creative business from scratch.
The movement revolves around freewheeling workshops called Makerspaces [PDF], otherwise known as “hackerspaces,” where people come together to build things. While at it, makers end up sharing resources and knowledge, and networking with like-minded others. As such, they provide an environment in which a community can grow.
Business owners who need an easy, inexpensive way to prototype new products will want to check out their local makerspaces. Makerspaces usually offer resources for technological experimentation, hardware development, and prototyping your ideas. Low-tech supplies like cardboard, wood, plastic pieces, metal doodads, and batteries are likely to be readily available in the space, as are tools for tasks such as sawing, welding, and laser-cutting. The higher-tech offerings might include micro-controllers (tiny single-circuit computers) and 3-D printers.
3-D printers are especially useful for fast and low-commitment prototyping of new products. To create your prototype this way, design it virtually using a 3-D modeling program or, to render objects that exist already, use a 3-D scanner. Save the rendering as a CAD file and use the 3-D printer to bring it to life.
Makerspaces can be located in any number of existing facilities: libraries, community centers, universities, and even on private property. Private makerspaces will offer various membership options, such as drop-in, monthly, and annual. SoDo Makerspace in Seattle offers a representative sample of how fees might be structured: Different pricing for access to the wood/metal shop (0 a year) and the high-tech proto lab (5 a year), and the highest membership fee for use of both (0 a year).
Some makerspaces offer special opportunities for entrepreneurs and other makers. Staten Island MakerSpace’s Make Your Future residency program gives those who are selected the time and resources to fabricate new inventions.
You can learn more about the movement and the makerspaces it has inspired in Make: magazine and by attending one of the Maker Faires held around the world. The sizzle of creative energy you’ll find in these spaces, publications, and events just might spark your own thirst for innovation and hands-on manufacturing.
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