20 Oct

How the maker movement is making life easier for entrepreneurs

This article was originally published on BRW.com.au
How the maker movement is making life easier for entrepreneurs

DIY has always been a part of Australian culture. Now, there is a new wave of do-it-yourself gaining momentum across the world and locally. Dubbed as the “maker movement” and the “new industrial revolution”, everyone from hobbyists, engineers, artists, economists, celebrities to politicians are driving the movement. Technologies such as 3D printing and robotics, open source software and community-driven creation is giving rise to a new breed of start-ups and changing how we do business.

The market has evolved in favour of entrepreneurs. Bigger brands are branching into spaces where entrepreneurs have a stronghold – community engagement and dialogue. Entrepreneurs now have more tools (and funding) than ever to bring their ideas to life.

Innovation isn’t new. But the speed of delivery and the ability of masses to innovate using technology and tools that were previously held by bigger corporations and the government are new. The maker movement is perhaps the biggest change the economy will go through since the invention of the internet.

So what does this mean for entrepreneurs, small businesses and anyone with an idea?

COLLECTIVE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

An increasing number of people are taking the power of creation and product development into their own hands. New York-based LittleBits (ranked in CNN’s “Top 10 Start-ups to Watch” in 2013), founded in 2011 by 32-year-old Ayah Bdeir, is democratising electrical engineering by giving people the power to invent their own technology. The start-up produces a line of pre-engineered and pre-assembled electronic circuits, which customers can use to make their own devices.

Entrepreneurs are now in a stronger position, especially in early start-up stage, to share their product idea as a whole or in part and see if the market responds. Crowdfunding sites help in gauging how popular the ideas are.

Democratisation of product development isn’t limited to start-ups. Brands such as UPS, Tesco, Coca-Cola and many others are allowing customers to make, modify and repair using technologies such as 3D printing.

MORE FAITH (AND FUNDING)

The number of brands and investors willing to support entrepreneurs is increasing. Google recently announced a new Spain campus for entrepreneurs, its third in Europe. The campus gives entrepreneurs unparalleled access to mentorship and trainings led by their local start-up community, experienced entrepreneurs, and teams from Google.

In addition to the popular crowdfunding models, angel investors and venture capitalists are also supporting the maker movement and niche initiatives. LittleBits closed Series B funding at $US11.1 million last November. Niche community-driven publications in Australia are getting crowdfunding to start and keep them going. Driven by stories of success, more people have faith in the power of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs have more access to capital.

ACCESSIBLE MANUFACTURING TECHNOLOGIES

Previously, any start-up wanting to pursue a manufacturing idea would have to consider significant capital investment. Although this will not change any time soon in the case of mass manufacturing, 3D printing allows start-ups to design, prototype and develop ideas at a much lower cost – opening the market to more entrants. According to John Barnes from CSIRO, 3D printing could reduce development time by up to 96 per cent.

Prototyping that would previously have cost hundreds of thousands can now be done at a fraction of the cost. Most manufacturing ideas and innovations stumble at prototyping stage and this is where open source and 3D printing could help the most – especially to start-ups. In addition to access to technology, innovators have benefit from community support.

Reiterating the magnitude of this movement, United States President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of 3D printing in his 2013 State of the Union speech noting that “3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything”.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

The business model as we know it has been changing the past few years from a one-to-many to more complicated many-to-many model. Community dialogue, activities and engagement have steered this change. While mass consumerism will not go away any time soon, business ideas and growth will spring from people working together to integrate technical capabilities true to the needs of communities.

E-commerce website for handmade and vintage products Etsy is possibly one of the best examples of a collaborative community. There are other niche communities cropping up by the thousands every day around the world. Technology and technological advances are allowing people and companies to offer solutions at lesser cost and higher profit margins than before.

FUTURE GROWTH

With declining manufacturing and demand for our resources, we need to look at new areas of growth that can tap into the potential of our nation. Increasing youth unemployment makes this more of a priority than ever.

If we combine the fact that Australia is one of the most connected and mobile countries in the world, to our steady increase in the Global Innovation Index (23rd in 2011, 19th in 2013 and 17th in 2014), we have the foundation to explore new technologies and innovate. As the country that invented Wi-Fi, we have the potential to develop many new ground-breaking ideas that redefine how the world functions.

In the same State of Union speech, Mr Obama talks about how American manufacturing, after shedding jobs for 10 years, is undergoing resurgence. A once shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the-art 3D printing lab.

The maker movement gives more people the power to be the next Bill Gates or Richard Branson. Every individual can “custom-design” their dreams and leave a positive impact on society.

Renata Cooper is founder and CEO of Forming Circles and a member of Scale Investors. Her personal investments include Tickle The Imagination, a magazine for the artisan/handmade community.

by Renata Cooper for BRW

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