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Exploring the Maker Space Boot Camp Experience

By: Anne Dewvall

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It has been five months since I attended the inaugural “Community Boot Camp: How to Start a FAB LAB from Ground Zero” at the Independence Community College Fab Lab. We at NetWork Kansas have been calling this the “Maker Space Boot Camp” for short. During those months, I have not stopped thinking about all the learning, inspiration, and fun that happened.

You might not be surprised that Jim Correll, Tim Haynes, and their team created an educational and inspiring program, but it’s rare that adults take any kind of training course and have fun. At conferences and workshops we may be productive, or make valuable connections, or feel the event was a good use of time, but I rarely hear the word “fun,” and during the week I spent in Independence, I heard it a lot. I think that’s why the experience stuck with me, actually.

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Playing with vinyl cutters and tiny electronic parts in a space just buzzing with energy and ideas created the perfect landscape for learning and designing and collaborating. If you’ve ever visited, you’ll know that Fab Lab ICC is a breeding ground for wonder, delight, and creativity. What you may not realize is that you could have the same kind of place in your own backyard. That’s the whole point of the Maker Space Boot Camp - to show community leaders not only “how to” start a Fab Lab anywhere but why.

Many of my fellow attendees were economic development directors from E-Communities. I heard lots of good and piercing questions trying to ascertain a direct causation between the existence of a maker space and increasing the number of business starts. The answer wasn’t a black and white one, although I’m sure there is a correlation. A maker space or Fab Lab is a place to incubate ideas and creative thinkers, to provide access to tools and other creative people, to introduce all those “collisions” between divergent worlds that leads to the richest innovation. It’s only natural for business startups to emerge from that environment.

A community could easily make tweaks to its own maker space to make it more supportive of small businesses. Jim shared some of the ways local entrepreneurs use Fab Lab ICC to grow their businesses. The salon owner who was able to acquire professional signage that would otherwise have been too expensive was a success story. So were others, many of which were presented in person by the actual entrepreneurs.

But a direct link between a maker space and small business owners isn’t where I see the real benefit of a maker space. My own experience shows how powerful it is to give a person the tools, know-how, and encouragement to make. During one session, we used computer software and a vinyl cutter to create vinyl stickers. I look at mine every day and marvel at how cool it is that I made that. And that’s the heart of entrepreneurship. That sense of self-efficacy and belief that whether it’s catering a wedding or developing a disruptive piece of technology, “I can do this,” “I will do this,” and finally, “I did this.”

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Not only that, the vinyl sticker project shows another way that maker spaces build entrepreneurial thinkers. I had a goal (to make a pretty sticker) and I had tools (computer, software, machine, vinyl), and I had resources (my peers and an expert/mentor). We each got to experience - hands on - the design process, some problem solving and learning, and finally, the execution. For some, there was even a further round of problem solving if the sticker failed to emerge from the cutter as hoped. Sound like any business situations you’ve encountered? Building those skills - to work together to solve a problem or address an opportunity, find and use resources, and problem solve - is a lot more effective when experienced, like we did, hands-on.

If you’re considering whether a maker space belongs in your community, I would encourage you wholeheartedly to attend the Community Boot Camp. I could tell you all the things you’ll learn (I even made a sheet with key takeaways!)  but ultimately, you have to experience it to understand the kind of role this kind of environment could play in your community.

A few seats remain for the September 2018 Boot Camp. Learn more here: http://www.fablabicc.org/Community-Boot-Camp-74555.asp

The Maker Space Boot Camp is a NetWork Kansas board certified program that qualifies for the use of E-Community loan funds to cover expenses for Entrepreneurship (E-) Community attendees.