Why do we need makerspaces?

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How Do Makerspaces Help?

All businesses start somewhere. It used to be in a garage, the way Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard did. But in today's world there are not as many garages equipped to make things. And the very nature of what can be made has changed. In the old days equipment for making prototypes was expensive and hard to come by unless you were a $10 million business. Today that equipment is still too expensive for a personal garage, but it is cheap enough that a group of friends could buy it to share. This is where makerspaces come in.

So many great ideas have been realized in makerspaces. Some ideas have improved the life of one person, others have changed the world. Makerspaces act as incubators for innovation. Being multi-disciplinary, a makerspace fosters the kind of broad, creative thinking that generates new economic value in the community. A number of businesses have been able to start because they had a local makerspace. On one end of the scale is Square - a billion dollar company that used a makerspace to prototype their first product and used that to raise venture capital. On the other end is HasBags, a sole proprietor selling unique handbags and other leather goods at local art festivals.

The commonality is that all these businesses need a place where their own sweat can be used to make, test, innovate, and iterate until they have a product that works. A local makerspace in your community can light the fire of innovation and economic development.

Here are a couple of real world stories.


A mobile payment device and app that revolutionized the transfer of money for merchants and private persons. The first prototype device was created on an injection molding machine at a makerspace. Square

Now a $3B company.

When they started out they had an idea: let everyone who sells thing be able to take credit cards. In the old days it cost a lot. You had to sign up a merchant bank, get a bulky credit card reader or one of those ancient slide things. Why couldn't everyone easy sign up to take a credit card?

The founders shopped the idea around but VCs just didn't get it. Or they couldn't see it. So the founders joined a makerspace. They took classes for the injection mold machine and the Tormach to make the mold. They sweated it out themselves to create a prototype.

They made a little mag stripe reader that plugged into the earphone/microphone jack on an iPhone. The reader converted the magnetic stripe encoding to audio tones. An app on the phone listened to those tones and converted them into the characters on the card. The app was just a fake one that would display the credit card stripe information and say, "thanks for your payment." After several months it was done.

Now the founders went to VCs with a working card reader. When they made the pitch they asked the VC for their credit card. They swiped the card and the app said, "thanks for your purchase." Now the light bulb went off and the VCs could see the power of this new solution. Something that would disrupt the whole industry.

Square was born at a makerspace.

Oru Kayak

High performance, folding kayaks for all types of paddlers. Oru kayaks are easy to transport and store, letting you explore like never before. Many prototypes were created at a makerspace. Oru Kayak

Embrace Innovations

An India based social enterprise that develops disruptive healthcare technologies focused on reducing infant and maternal deaths in emerging markets. The team developed a blanket that is used to keep premature infants warm for several hours while they are transported to a facility with an infant incubator. The team developed prototypes in a makerspace and the chance interaction with another maker member led to the selection of a high performance polymer to fill the blanket. Embrace Innovations

As told to me by Raffi Colett:

Some Stanford students had taken a social good class. They identified a serious need. When a baby is born prematurely they need to get to an incubator quickly. In rural areas, especially in undeveloped countries, the nearest incubator can be hours away. These students developed a concept to create a blanket filled with some heat holding material that could be wrapped around a premature infant while it was transported to an incubator.

These students were working at TSMP to develop a prototype. They were puzzled over what would be the best material to use. It just happened that a polymer engineer was working on his own project at TSMP and overheard their conversation. He offered his expertise on the correct material to use. It worked.

The Embrace blanket is now used in rural India to save lives.

Stanford project page


A body fat measurement and fitness assessment system using a whole body 3D scanner. The scan allows body shape measurement and visualization. Developed in a makerspace.

An athlete could take a series of scans over time to see improvement in targeted areas. One could even compare their body shape to that of an idealized version of a person in their sport.

The prototype was done at TSMP when it was in San Carlos. Jim Schrempp remembers Raffie Collet and his wife were both scanned one day. Fit3D

Boosted Boards

An electric longboard for commuters. Revolutionizing the personal transportation sector. A skate boarder had a vision to change the world of personal transportation. Working on prototypes at a makerspace, he created the Boosted Board. A battery powered "long board" that can travel up to 10 miles at 30 mph on a single charge. Boosted Boards


A desk light in a book. The prototypes were made at a local makerspace. Lumio

Dodo Case

A novel bamboo case for the iPad. President Obama had one. Dodo Case

Popular Mechanics article:

"Resembling a Moleskin notebook, the DODO case has exploded in popularity since debuting alongside the iPad in April 2010. Within a month, orders spiked from 10 to 900 a day. Retailers like J. Crew carry them, and President Obama keeps one on his desk.

DODOcase hasn't always had a big robot room. Or its own bookbindery. Or 25 full-time employees. When Buckley and co-founders Craig Dalton and Mark Manning started the company, it seemed more like a hobby than an assembly line. They cut bamboo on routers at their local makerspace, outsourced covers to a local bookbinder, and assembled the cases in Buckley's basement. Three years later, DODOcase has grown into a model of success for a new breed of small-scale manufacturers."

Has Bags

Handmade bags of unique design. Often with laser cut panels. Used to develop and produce her products at a makerspace. Has Bags

Robbie Cuthbert Furniture

Robbie was an active maker at a local makerspace. His beautiful wooden furniture inspired many people. Robby Cuthbert

Katie Jackson Furniture

Katie Jackson was a cabinet maker who worked out of TSMP for a while making furniture out of reclaimed wood with a friend, Lila, that she met out here. Katie then moved back to Connecticut and is active in makerspaces back there. She published a book with plans for hand built outdoor furniture. Katie Jackson Woodworks

Prawn Designs

He was a board game geek who was tired of the Settlers of Catan tiles moving all over the place. Working with his brother, a number of prototypes were cut on the ShopBot at a local makerspace. After refining the concept they moved to a laser cutter based design that was more precise and easier to manufacture. He now sells game boards, accessories, and model train items around the world. Prawn Designs

Job Up Skill

When a popular for-profit makerspace went bankrupt, the staff was left without jobs. Yet, the very day the shop in Redwood City, California closed a local businessman walked in saying "I'm looking for laser cutter operators;" three people went to work there. The employees across the country formed a private Facebook group to share their grief over losing their jobs, and to help each other out with leads. It turned out that these employees were sought after by other companies. They had the hands-on, I-can-do-anything attitude that employers look for. Coupled with the extensive hands on work they did as employees of the makerspace, these were great hires for all kinds of businesses. In just a few months the private Facebook group wound down as these ex-employees took jobs that were often more exciting and better paying than the ones they lost.

The bottom line is that working for a makerspace can increase a person's skills and future job prospects.