As soon as my husband and I opened our K-12 Tech Center in Sugar Land, Texas, we were welcomed into the world of makers. Yes, we considered ourselves makers too, but only in our own skill set area with technology. We soon discovered there were many names and types of makers…an artist, a sculptor, a crafter, a quilter, a metalworker, a roboticist, a woodworker and the list could go on. Many times we found that makers do not consider themselves to be a maker, but wanted to identify with their specific craft and skill set. A broader term such as maker just didn’t match to their perception of themselves.
We soon became aware and were welcomed into the world of spaces that enable makers…and the many different types of spaces that encourage their creativity and creations. The breadth and diversity of spaces is just as broad and diverse as their makers and the equipment needed to make. It has been very hard to categorize makerspaces within the community and even harder by the general public. Thus connecting individuals to a makerspace that can enable their passion and interests for making can be difficult. I will give it a shot in my attempt below to help identify different stages in a maker’s journey through spaces. Every space is different though, so based on your stage in your maker journey I would recommend you reach out and visit your local spaces to see what they have to offer. Every one of them are different in their space, equipment, types of making, governance and community. To find a space near you, I would recommend searching our Hub directory of shared spaces.
As mentioned above all spaces are different and each don’t confine to a specific mold. I would also like to add that each maker’s journey is different and might not follow a straight path to Stage 6 or even want to reach Stage 6. Below are my perceptions of a typical maker’s journey through spaces that enable them to make. The assumption is that their journey is taking them on a path as a business owner of a product or service in which they have a passion. I will try my best to describe the stages based on needs for space, knowledge, network and equipment as these are four key elements in the growth of a maker along their journey.
Stage 1: Discovery
The Discovery Stage is all about finding a new capability by seeing something that someone else has done. The fascination starts. A space is in use at this point by a rookie maker and many of the things about the new capability is seen out of their house. They might have seen this new capability in school, at a festival, in the news, as a presentation, as a demonstration, in their public library’s makerspace, etc.
Stage 2: Engagement
The rookie maker sees a welcoming class to learning the skill and decides to give it a try. The space used is someone else’s most probably a library makerspace, but could also be a publicly accessible class from many other types of makerspaces. Their desk space at home is still free of clutter at this time…the addiction hasn’t set in.
A maker in the Engagement Stage might stay in this mode for awhile until they feel comfortable with techniques on their own, they feel comfortable in a community where they can fail-with-encouragement or they have the persistence to continue pass barriers. The way in which the staff or community of a space engages a rookie maker can be critical to their growing confidence and skill building. The relationships built in this stage of engagement could make or break whether the rookie maker continues with the space AND the skill building.
If a maker chooses to buy their own equipment as they move into Stage 3, that maker may not see the value of the relationship with the community in the library or shared-equipment member-based space that provided the engagement.
Colorado residents have been fortunate in the investment in makerspaces within their public libraries. Many Colorado libraries provide programming for classes in a variety of making techniques and certification of various equipment like 3D Printers and CNCs. Many of the shared-equipment, member-based spaces also provide classes to non-members which is an opportunity to peak inside the space and interact with community members. I invite all rookie makers to take a variety of classes at all types of makerspaces to find your community of support.
Stage 3: Ideas
Depending on the cost of the equipment the maker may decide to buy their own equipment or use shared equipment in a makerspace. For shared-equipment spaces the maker has the option to go to a public library makerspace or they could join a member-based space with the equipment. Both of these shared-equipment spaces have individuals that can help the maker with the use of the equipment. The difference is whether they are paid staff or volunteers. For member-based spaces there is typically a support community in the areas of equipment, techniques and even projects. Most makers come to a member-based space for the equipment but will stay forever if they have made connections and relationships in its community. Some of these shared-equipment, member-based spaces are Creator Hub, The Gizmo Dojo, Pikes Peak Makerspace and TinkerMill.
For a list of spaces across Colorado, see our Hub directory for Shared Spaces.
The maker could stay in either of these spaces, member-based or library, from one month to many years as they tinker and hone their skills in this craft. They may even discover another skill as they discover the other equipment that is available in the shared-equipment space and gain trust in the community to go out of their norms.
For those makers with the funds and with time constraints, they will trend towards buying the equipment needed and continue their maker journey in their own home. For some making like 3D Printing or Computer Numerical Control (CNC) the maker can get other tasks done at home while the equipment is doing its task. The price of equipment in some maker areas has dropped quite a bit, so to compete with this, the shared-equipment spaces have honed in on providing their value in either their community of support, 24-hour access, equipment up-time, available expertise, materials for tinkering, business support and / or lowering the barriers to get started.
Stage 4: Purpose
Many makers are happy with Stage 3 and enjoy the fun of discovering new skills and honing their crafts. But some may take a risk and start a business selling their skill as a service or their craft through a product. They are finding a way to make some money off of their hobby and a passion they have found. Makers at this stage are typically okay with shared equipment as they still haven’t made enough money to buy their own equipment and might not have the knowledge to maintain the equipment they rely on for the craft. But one key element in a shared-equipment space they may start considering is where they can get marketing exposure to gain more customers, building their connections and growing their knowledge in how to run a business. They also will start considering how they will do transactions for orders and whether they want to be looking into a separate display space like in a gallery for art or commit to a booth at a marketplace. For a list of these resources, you can search our Hub Directory Resources.
Those that bought their equipment in Stage 3 may have discovered their own capabilities of whether they can maintain the equipment. If able to maintain their own equipment, they are probably feeling pretty good and now looking at ways of connecting to others for collaborations on supplies and customer base. Since they might not have built their network along the way, like a member-based, shared-equipment space might have provided, they might have to reach out to their local Chamber of Commerce, an incubator or the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for their own knowledge gaps and to gain connections. If not able to maintain their equipment, they may have stopped making all together and are frustrated. They will need to determine if they have the passion for the craft or a product they have in mind, then chose whether to reach out for support in either their own network, to their equipment supplier or join a makerspace as a member to gain the network of the community to gain more tips on maintaining their equipment or to connect with partners to continue the maker business journey.
Stage 5: Focus
At some point a focused maker with their own business will begin to grow their own customer base. The maker will see an increase in the frequency for a space to make, an increase in space needed for materials and a dependence on equipment up-time. All these dependency characteristics with customers may force the maker to buy their own equipment and / or look for their own dedicated space. At this stage the maker may have outgrown a shared-equipment, member-based space and feels the need for dedicated space option. Some shared-equipment, member-based spaces are starting to provide this as an option to members, if their space allows, but a Dedicated-Member-Equipment-Space may be the next option of spaces for a maker’s business. Maker’s that have bought their own equipment and are seeing their business take over their house may also want to investigate these spaces in their area. These spaces allow a maker business to rent a certain amount of square footage to hold their equipment, supplies, a workspace and an assembly space to make their product.
In some cases the maker business could jump into a lease agreement directly with a landlord, BUT if a maker hasn’t done this before I would highly recommend they investigate some of the spaces in their area that already have a collective of makers in a shared space. These collectives have already open the discussion with their landlord on ‘What Making Is’ thus the landlord probably has more flex in their acceptance of ‘messiness’, ventilation and power demands of maker equipment, plus you will have a community of support in launching your business as you focus in on the scope of your products or services. Depending on their equipment and craft, they have already worked through specific commercial zoning which is something you will not have to deal with as you look for your own space. Their membership costs have now transitioned to an annual membership with a signed contract with the collective. The maker will probaby also see that more liabilities will need to be insured on their own business entity. This stage can be a big move for some businesses. It is a make or break on their maker business.
There are many new Dedicated-Member-Equipment-Spaces popping up that are not just rented to one entity, but are starting to recognize the need for a smaller rental space for these in-between maker businesses. In most cases, these spaces do not have shared-equipment, but a focus on shared meeting space, shared assembly workspace, shared shipments warehousing and / or shared kitchen. Some of these Dedicated-Member-Equipment-Spaces in Colorado are Milestones for Growth and Phoenix Asylum. Each with their own culture and types of making they support. I can see the demand for these spaces growing even more as rental rates go higher, the price per square foot goes higher for houses, the number of small businesses grows and communities tend to want to support local artists, makers and small businesses. These small businesses will need ways to support each other and combine resources to survive.
Stage 6: Growth
A maker’s journey through spaces will probably end in a Growth Stage. In this stage they need even more space to grow and have control of their space needs. The growth and control could be for either business meetings, employee interactions, materials storage, assembly space or specialized equipment. Either way they will need to find their own space as a tenant to a landlord. When looking for a space, the maker will need to consider commercial zoning, liabilities, utility costs and whether the landlord is open to their type of maker business. For leads on spaces, I would recommend a rookie maker business contact a commercial broker to help them with zoning ordinances, dealing with landlords and initial lease contract terms. Before signing a contract I would recommend the maker business contact the city for any local ordinances and to understand the permitting process to be able to open their doors for business. If a maker business has made it this far…What a success! We should all be congratulating them on their persistence and be a patron to their craft!
These are my perceptions of a typical maker’s journey through spaces that enable them to make. The assumption is that their journey is taking them on a path as a business owner of a product or service in which they have a passion. As mentioned above all spaces are different and each don’t confine to a specific mold. AND I would like to add that for the sake of discovery and innovation, we should NOT confine these spaces into a mold but allow the flexibility. Our world is changing and makerspaces are providing a channel for innovation by community members who want to collectively discover and innovate. They are the seed that grows into new businesses.
Much of the data around a maker’s journey through these stages is not readily available and hard to track. The chart to the right shows a trend of the number of people involved in a space and the types of making occurring in a typical space as a maker’s journey progresses through the Stages. I will note that we can only show trends at this time and not actual numbers. Some of these numbers are trying to be gathered by the Nation of Maker’s Survey of Makerspaces. If we were able to track a chart for EACH type of making we could potentially start tracking industries and any growth or decline of businesses in those associated industries. If we foster the Discovery, Engagement and Ideas Stages in specific types of making, we could bolster an industry. Until we get to some more detailed metrics, it will be hard for us to track the value of makerspaces. So until we get those metrics together that make the overall message very clear…please take my word for it! MAKERSPACES PROVIDE VALUE!! Go visit your local spaces and discover what they have to offer!