Maker Movement Mania

Maker Community Groups Incubating a 21st Century Skillset

PSFK Labs iQ Content Partner
NY startups

Niche educational programs are teaching makers the key skills and entrepreneurial insights they need to find success in the real world.

Are makers hobbyists or entrepreneurs? Are their creations mere diversions or market-ready products? The growing global maker community has answered simply, “Both.”

Tinkerers and hackers have embraced all possibilities under the banner of craft, innovation and a DIY mentality. With sales exceeding $1.35 billion in 2013, Etsy proves that if you can make it, someone will probably buy it. And, thanks to the increasing availability of inexpensive manufacturing technology and communal makerspaces, makers are bringing more ideas to life, faster than ever.

Nevertheless, it must be said that between productivity and profitability lies a wide chasm. Lots of tinkerers are driven by an urge to innovate, and that same DIY mindset often lends itself to entrepreneurship, but building a business on your creation takes a leap of an entirely different kind.

school for startups

This week, we’re highlighting the proliferation of educational programs built specifically to give makers the knowledge and resources to make that jump. We’ve grouped these programs under an umbrella we’re calling “Skills Incubator”, and they represent a pedagogical niche designed expressly for the (money) maker.

Of course, entrepreneurship training is nothing new — SCORE and Small Business Development Centers around the country have long been supporting budding business people alongside funders like the Kauffman Foundation. What is new is the focused, just-in-time approach of many of these programs and their emphasis on the needs of young, creative folks — individuals who can design, prototype and produce with remarkable agility but are wholly unprepared for the backend of the business.

In London, the School for Creative Startups (S4CS) is part of a network of programs founded by serial entrepreneur, Doug Richard. The idea is to give makers 120 hours of training and support to plan, organize and build a profitable business around their creation.

With connections to the MakeGood Festival and startup financing program, Launcher, S4CS aims to place creative-types within a community of peers and experienced entrepreneurs who can help shepherd them through topics like brand-management, pricing, capital-raising, financial forecasting and more.

Applicants need not be already selling — they simply need to be committed to their product and the mission of carving a niche in the market for their creative idea.

apparel designer

To better prepare high-tech makers for the business of hardware entrepreneurship, supply chain facilitator, PCH International has launched a companion program to its ShopLocket platform called The Blueprint.

Blueprint is a media entity that uses web and email newsletters to deconstruct the trials and tribulations of those who have turned their tinkering into a serious enterprise.

With reading lists, a database of resources and directories of service providers and events, Blueprint doesn’t tell you how to build a better device, but it promises to give you tools and illuminate practices that can help you chart a course through the process of “think, make, scale and sell”.

adult learners in computer lab

The audience for Blueprint may see their products ultimately assembled in Shenzhen, China, but the folks participating in Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship Program (CEP) are decidedly domestic. Their goal is to cultivate the business skills of makers from within low-income communities around the United States so that they can turn existing craft skills into extra income.

Now in six cities including Dallas, TX, and Newark, NJ, the program is partnering with municipalities, non-profits and experienced Etsy sellers to teach essential skills like pricing, making a cost projection and marketing. Dana Mauriello, creator of the CEP, sees microenterprises like those found on Etsy as a vital part of overall economic resiliency.

In interviews, she cites a recent Etsy survey that suggests nearly 75 percent of sellers consider their Etsy shops a business and more than half use income earned on the platform for household expenses or to supplement savings. To Mauriello, that makes the craft marketplace a great tool for entrepreneurs and a perfect channel for teaching entrepreneurship.

Programs like these are distinct from many of the much-heralded accelerators and incubators that pop up seemingly every week. For one thing, they are meant expressly for makers rather than the whole gamut of entrepreneurs who may be looking for a leg up.

Additionally, many of the creators targeted by these training seasons are still in the very earliest stages of turning their creative endeavor into an enterprise — in some cases, before the maker has even made the mental leap from “I love doing this” to “I could make a business out of this.”

That puts them ahead of most incubators in the chronology of entrepreneur education and well before accelerators. And while S4CS and Etsy’s CEP both bring people together for group learning — a common model among incubators and accelerators — Blueprint exists only online. As trainings go, it’s, well, entirely DIY.

So, while more and more tinkerers find a home under the Maker umbrella for their innovative spirits, they’re also finding resources should they decide to explore their entrepreneurial side. With the help of these “Skills Incubators,” inventors and home brewers and all those who delight in turning a fleeting idea into something real have the option to make a business proposition of their craft.

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