Each month the NW Innovation Resource Center writes about a Whatcom County resident who has invented products that solve everyday problems.
In honor of May being National Inventor’s Month, we wanted to honor more than just one inventor who has found success, instead we want to highlight Makers and how the Maker movement is having a big impact in making inventing, innovation and products more accessible to everyone so we spoke with Mary Elliott Keane of The Foundry in Bellingham.
What is the maker movement?
There are many descriptions out there and Adweek sums it up nicely: “the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers…computer hackers and traditional artisans…who used to toil in solitude. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise.”
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Why did you want to see a makerspace here in Bellingham?
I see one of the great things about makerspaces is the sense of community. Great ideas get lost because people don’t know that the tools they need to succeed are right here and accessible. These places give people a chance to get past the problems they are having in building their ideas because they can learn from others who come to share their skills.
Another great thing about the maker movement is that it is not limited to a certain age, it gives young people a chance to create, learn and reframe their own failures. Just recently I went and taught a first-grade class about 3D printing and they get it right away.
How do maker spaces like the Foundry help makers?
It takes the risk out of trying something new, because you don’t have to invest in all the tools. This is also a place where people can see the possibilities of their ideas and don’t have to sit in a garage doing it themselves while watching you tube videos. The interests and pursuits of makers vary greatly, which is why working in a makerspace is great. It is not that you have to share your idea with others, but just seeing someone else work and how they do things might inspire you to move past a problem. I’ve seen people find their eureka moment, just by doing that.
What are the biggest challenges makers have to overcome when they start?
When someone is getting started they really have to figure out how to make it simple. It starts by understanding what a prototype is and that it does not need all the bells and whistles at first. For many people that means you need to break it down to the basics of what the idea is and start building from there. It can be really hard to get the idea out of your head and make it look like the finished product the first time you do. However, you can create a simple 3D model and then you start to get it. From there you improve upon it and keep building new versions until it looks like what you want.
What are some examples of products being made and sold by makers?
All kinds of cool things. Bomber Audio is local company that makes boom boxes made from old ammo cans. They were able to use our equipment to help build the sound boards that go into the cans. We sell these beautiful wood pens made by a man who uses our wood shop tools to build them. We helped a woman with her light up cat ears, all the way from her first prototypes. Besides having makers come here, the Foundry also acts as a job shop manufacturer, like Starling watches that we build using our soldering tables.
What is the advice you have for those getting started?
It’s not as hard as you think, everything really is accessible.
Lara Merriam-Smith is the program manager for NW Innovation Resource Center, a Bellingham-based non-profit that helps inventors and entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. For more information call 360-255-7870 or go online to nwirc.com.
Mary Elliott Keane will speak about the maker movement at the Inventor Insights event from noon to 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 4 at 2211 Rimland Drive, Room 106. The event is free, but register in advance at nwirc.com/events, or call 360-255-7870.