Saturday, April 18, 2015

Makerspaces and Local Economies


Excellent article in The Atlantic about how makerspaces jump-start innovation and new business creation at a local level.  We've seen this, in spades, at our own makerspace: TinkerMill.  

The picture above is of the first test unit production of a new patent pending product that was conceived, prototyped, internally crowdfunded by TinkerMIll members and is now going into first run production.


It's an essential oil extraction appliance- effectively a vacuum chamber that allows you to create essential oils from almost any biological source, by boiling it down in ethanol at very safe (low) temperatures.  It's called "The Source" from a company formed at TinkerMill called ExtractCraft (I'm a co-founder).  The number of markets it addresses is pretty astounding.


Without our makerspace, this product would never have been created.  The people with the right mix of skills would never have met.  The tools to prototype the ideas wouldn't have been available.  The funding would have been much more difficult to find (if it was findable at all- our own local professional investors who are more software only focused passed on the idea).  In short, there wouldn't be a product, or a company, without the makerspace.


The article (link below) about how these makerspaces work and effect local communities is insightful and very much worth the read:


http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/04/makerspaces-are-remaking-local-economies/39080

Monday, February 02, 2015

Small entities and Big entities- working together (or, at times, not working together)

Brad Feld had a great blog post on small companies working with big companies a few days ago that really struck a cord with me.

As some of you know, I founded and am president of TinkerMill, a 501(c)3 makerspace that focuses on education - particularly STEAM related education- a hot button area right now, and new business incubation- the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Longmont where we're based.  We grew from an idea to the largest makerspace in Colorado (and, it seems, this 8-9 state region) pretty quickly, so we attracted the attention of quite a few organizations out there.

As a result, over the last year and half or our existence, we've tried to work with the various entities (NPO's) that are involved in most of our day to day lives.  Municipal and state government; the local public school system and their private counterparts, the charter schools, as well as the local community college and some of our local economic development folks.

Overall, I've found the experience to be mixed.  We've had good interactions with the economic development folks, like the Longmont Area Economic Council (LAEC), as well as the City of Longmont itself- their senior staff totally get's what TinkerMill is about.  Both have been very supportive (in action and in financial support).  As always there have been a hiccup or two here and there, but all minor so far.



Our experience with the schools, particularly the big ones (SVVSD, our local Public School district) and Front Range Community College (FRCC), hasn't been so good.  Not bad, exactly, but not consistently good.

It's effectively mirrored the exprience Brad talks about in his dealing with 'big companies'.  He sums it up perfectly with this comment:

"we’ve had many interactions at many levels over the years – some good, some bad, some complex, and some perplexing"

That's a near perfect reflection of our experience with some large non profit/educational institutions we've known the last year.  I won't go into details here, but after banging our heads against the 'rules' the schools operate by (which seem anathema to operating in the 21st century, and within a local community on terms they don't completely control), we've pretty much given up trying.  Or more accurately:  Trying as hard.  Our doors are always open to discussion, but only if it's followed by action and actual implementation.  Talk is.. well.. just talk.

Sadly, it's not the fault of the change agent's trying to make things happen inside these educational institutions, it's almost always the bureaucratic back room that kills off being innovative.  I suspect it's mostly a risk aversion thing.

The sad truth is, however, places like TinkerMill, over time, can augment these institutions significantly.  By not working with us, these existing 20th century institutions are taking the very real risk of being "Uberized" by 501(c)3 non profit educational entities like TinkerMill.

It's not unlike little companies disrupting (and often dismantling) much larger companies, only, here it's the school system and, in some cases, the public libraries (many have gotten stuck in the 'we're about books' mode vs. what they're real mission is:  Knowledge Distribution).

It's interesting to see patterns repeat, and boy do they.  From Brad's experience with small and large companies interactions to our recent almost mirror like experience between small new innovative non profits and large stuck in their way(s) NPO's.

Indeed, the patterns just keep repeating.










Sunday, February 01, 2015

Boulder County Mini Maker Faire party at TinkerMill video

video

A quick recap video our our pre-party for the Boulder County Mini Maker Faire held at TinkerMill in Longmont.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Oil.. A race to the bottom...



www.pkverlegerllc.com/assets/documents/141217_Rise_of_the_ManufRacturers1.pdf

Fascinating analysis.  Short read, worth checking out.

Oil production as manufacturing. This scenario sounds very very plausible, even likely.

It compares what's happening in oil production to what happened in the computer world (from expensive mainframe to low cost distributed PCs). Think of today's Exxon as IBM making expensive mainframes (traditional expensive ...billions of $ to startup... and deep oil wells in expensive to extract places) vs fracking ($10 million, dropping rapidly to startup, with the ability to shut down then quickly restart as prices rise and fall).

Add this happening in low cost places (i.e. not the U.S.), and you can see how this is, indeed, the future of oil, and low oil prices.

Hmmmmm....lots of good there, but, even more (really) bad. Hopefully the wind, hydro and solar folks will keep the cost curve dropping fast. It's now a race to the bottom.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Colorado makerspaces: Where technological innovation meets entrepreneurship

Our local newspaper has been very supportive of TinkerMill.

Here's an article they just did on us:

http://www.timescall.com/business/local-business/ci_27384916/colorado-makerspaces-where-technological-innovation-meets-entrepreneurship





"Colorado makerspace: Where technological innovation meets entrepreneurship".

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in review- TinkerMill, Makerspaces, Startup Longmont and more

It's been an amazingly interesting and productive year here in Longmont, CO.

We created a makerspace in mid-2013, but it really took off this year.  We call it TinkerMill, The Longmont Makerspace.  We received our 501(c)3 public charity status this past summer.

We went from a small group of 6 people showing up for a meetup at a local school's 'Career Development Center' facility in May of 2013 to a few dozen folks  at the beginning of 2014 to over 150 paying members and almost 640 meetup members as of the end of 2014.  Not bad for 18 months.

This makes us the largest makerspace in Colorado and, as far as we can tell, the largest makerspace in this 7 state region.  You have to go all the way to Austin, TX. to find one larger.

Our primary charter as an educationally focused non profit is to create a collaborative commons where our members can learn from each other, teach each other and create, pretty much, anything, from art to personal projects to new products, services and businesses.

We started the year out with an average of 55 classes and events per month and consistently grew that over the year to as many as 120 classes and events per month (in some months, holding up to 14 classes and events in a single day and averaging 4+ events per day, every day, all month long).

We've had almost 1,000 classes and events at TinkerMill in the last year or so.  From the art of making cheese, to programming Arduino chips for robots, drones and 3D printers to how to forge a sword, weld and use a throw wheel and kiln.

We're experimenting with a concept called 'nano-degrees' and we put together a new kind of class to teach people how to prototype products using 3D printers.  We're doing it hand in hand with our local Front Range Community College's staff and their incredible million dollar precision machining facility.  If you teach people how to prototype using the latest tools like 3D printers and how to make real product with serious machining tools like a Bridgeport GX 250, you've got the makings of a true high tech/advanced manufacturing economy renaissance.

There's a pretty good chance that if you want to learn it, someone at TinkerMill can teach it.  Or, if you're looking for a co-founder of a company, you'll likely find someone for that as well.  Our membership is made up of 70% technical people (engineers, developers and technologists), 20% creatives (designers, artists and artisans) and about 10% business focused (startup people, entrepreneurs, potential investors and general biz folks).

We moved TinkerMill into a new space at 1840 Delaware Pl, Longmont CO. in May that's a little over 6,100SF.  It's made up of offices and workshop space packed to the rafters with awesome tools, workspaces and incredibly creative people.

We're expanding Jan 1st of 2015 to include a couple of thousands more SF of prototyping lab and incubator-ish space to help our members do even more learning, teaching, creating and starting up new businesses.

We have a healthy and open relationship with our city government and have been heavily involved with programs related to teaching kids during summer and after school programs as well as putting together a civic technology series of classes to help Longmont residents into the 21st century.  We received a grant from the City of Longmont ($60K) to buy a large array of new prototyping gear that we'll be using to teach our city's residents to use for creative projects as well the conjuring up of new products and, hopefully, new businesses.

Longmont is one of only a handful of cities that's building a municipally owned gigabit fiber network (1000MB of data to your home) and started rolling it out in 2014.  The cost?  $50 mo.  TinkerMill is creating a 'how to use a gigabit' course, hand in hand with the city, to teach residents how to make the most of a full gigabit connection to their homes.  We're also planning a 'gigathon' hackathon in the first half of 2015 to show off our cities new fiber network and we'll be inviting business people, developers and creatives from anywhere to come and see what what kind of products, services and businesses they can create with a real live gigabit fiber internet connection.

Because we saw many of our members saying: 'I'd like to make this product' and other startup related activity happening organically inside TinkerMill, we decided to address it directly and created a new group called Startup Longmont in August of 2014.  It's focused on creating a new entrepreneurial ecosystem in Longmont designed to make the city an extraordinarily friendly place for startup companies to move to, and to be created in.

We've grown Startup Longmont during a short 5 months to over local 225 members.  About 25% are from TinkerMill directly, and 75% are from the local entrepreneurial community.

We're focused on creating more community, attracting, and building, places for entrepreneurs like TinkerMill (an innovation, education and prototyping center), Launch Longmont (our first co-working space) and incubators/accelerators for new businesses and, lastly, attracting funding sources and systems (crowdfunding, Angel Investor Networks and venture capitalists) to Longmont.  As an example, we're working with local community organizations like the Longmont Community Foundation to figure out how we might focus resources into things like a new kind of Non-Profit Micro-Venture Fund.

We've also been active in working with a broad range of other groups within the city on a city wide initiative called Advance Longmont to help drive the city's economic development strategy.

We suspect we might even be onto an interesting new model for innovation and economic development that might be repeatable in almost any city in America.  We'll find out over the coming months, and years.

There's lots more, but for now, that's a pretty reasonable summation of some of what I've been up to this year in the community/non profit facing world.  I've also got an interesting startup company in the works, but I'll save that for another post in the near future.

Like I said, It's been an amazingly interesting and productive year here in Longmont, CO.

Monday, December 01, 2014

All Wheel Drive Does Not Make You Safer

Every so often I read a blog post that's really relevent our day to day life.  This is one of those.  A friend of mine, who writes an outstanding blog on living a simpler life,wrote up a great post on exactly why AWD just isn't worth it.  Worth a read.