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Top 10+1 Ways a Fab Lab or Maker Space Can Benefit Your Community

By Jim Correll
Director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence, Kansas

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In September, we hosted our second "Community Boot Camp; How to Build a Fab Lab from Ground Zero." Eleven Kansans came to Fab Lab ICC for 2 1/2 days to learn from our journey building our lab starting with verbal and written goals back in 2012. Each boot-camper's goal was to initiate a Fab Lab or Maker Space in their own community. Steve came from Rooks County in Northwest Kansas; that's about as far away as you can get and still be in Kansas. In this camp, all participants were involved in local E-Community initiatives. I think it was Wednesday afternoon, the second day, that we suddenly realized the powerful combination of Fab Lab capabilities within an entrepreneurship ecosystem. By summarizing how we see our benefit to the community, we hope to inspire communities to realize that every rural community should have some kind of Fab Lab or Maker Space to realize these same creative and economic benefits.

Fab Lab ICC is available to community members, entrepreneurs and small business owners for an annual membership fee of just $125. Fab Lab ICC is a creative place where things can be made for fun, learning, or business purposes. Here, we explore some of the ways the Fab Lab ICC experience impacts our broader community and surrounding area. Fab Lab ICC is a regional resource available with no geographic restrictions. These are the ways a Fab Lab has benefitted our community – and can benefit your community, too.

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1.)    We work toward a continuous flow of new business start-ups while existing entrepreneurs and small business owners learn that they can use the Lab to develop new products and services. This adds jobs as some grow to need help. Every entrepreneur that becomes a start-up business counts as either a part-time or full-time job.

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2.)    Entrepreneurs can use our tools to create promotional items such as banners, flyers, brochures, photographic and video imaging as well as gifts and awards, at a reasonable cost.

3.)    We inspire an Entrepreneurial Mindset through everything we do, including the Mindset class, featuring the Ice House Entrepreneurship program and the initiation of the Youth Entrepreneur (a Koch Foundation initiative) curriculum in area high schools. As an Entrepreneurial Mindset culture develops, our communities become better at solving the problems facing rural communities in Southeast Kansas.

4.)    We facilitate and sponsor the Network Kansas Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge each year as an excellent way to introduce young people to the concepts of entrepreneurship whether or not they are enrolled in business or entrepreneurship classes in school.

5.)    Even in our youth Boot and STEM Camps about "making,” we talk about solving problems and that the best problem solvers and critical thinkers will have the happiest, most fulfilling lives.

6.)    We can help challenged individuals improve their quality of life. We discovered this by accident. Some will become entrepreneurs, experiencing for the first time in their lives, the joy of providing a product or service in exchange for money. Government and foundation agencies around the U.S. are looking for quality of life solutions for these populations. We are working with two local agencies to develop solutions through the Fab Lab experience.

7.)    Through our Growth Accelerator program small business owners receive coaching and facilitation of E-Community gap financing and other services. Besides the E-Community gap financing, we offer an Innovation Fund for informal micro-loans of up to $1,000.

8.)    We’re creating the work force training (we like to call it “Fab-Force”) that is required to thrive in the coming age of customized manufacturing made possible by automation, robotics and advanced electronics. We believe the training for the employees and contractors of the future should consist of an approach where participants receive an introduction to a variety of disciplines rather than the singular disciplinary approaches of the past.

9.)    We strive to function as a type of advanced manufacturing Lab where existing businesses can learn about new techniques in customization and automation.

10.) Fab Lab ICC does a share of the heavy lifting in making Independence Community College strong. A strong community college helps build a strong community.

11.) The Fab Lab culture has a positive effect on attracting youth to the area. That kind of Entrepreneurial/Fab Lab culture, based on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship never gets old or goes out of style. Young people like that kind of environment and will be attracted to return to the area as the quality of “city life” continues to deteriorate.
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The next Community Boot Camp; How to Build a Fab Lab from Ground Zero (Maker Space Boot Camp) is March 5-7, 2019 in Independence, Kansas. Seats are limited, and enrolling now. Learn more. 

E-Community participants qualify for special pricing, and the use of loan funds. Contact your NetWork Kansas Regional Manager for details.

Jim Correll is the director at Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu.

Fab Lab or Maker Space

Fab Lab stands for Fabrication Laboratory; the term originating with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2,000 when the physics professor, weary of smart freshmen in his classes that couldn't make anything with their hands, created a fabrication lab to offer "hands-on" making. The concept of the lab grew to become a place where community members could go to make things. Eventually these Fab Labs became an International Fab Lab Network. Fab Lab ICC became a member in 2014 when there were about 200 globally. Now there are probably around 1,500. Joining the network is not difficult or expensive.

Maker Space is a more generic term that has come to mean almost any kind of community space giving people the opportunity to create things using equipment most would not have available at home or at work.