Can Raleigh be the Place for Makers?
Raleigh gets one of the world's first Maker Startup Weekends
BY LAURA BAVERMAN
Filed Under: NEWS: Startups
Three men planning the first-ever Triangle Maker Startup Weekend were wandering around N.C. State's campus one recent night when they stumbled on an event at the college's Crafts Center.
A Gathering of Makers, it was called. A metalsmith, potter, woodworker and crafter headlined the night, but when the Startup Weekend guys introduced themselves, their event and the idea of creating prototype objects using 3-D printers in an old shipping container-turned-creative space, the discussion quickly turned into a debate.
Can technology-powered prototyping be a creative outlet? Or is it killing craft and creativity?
The artists feared the latter; the men argued the former.
In the end, they all agreed to keep an open mind. But it was an experience that stuck with the trio, and fueled their plans and recruitment efforts for one of just a handful of Maker Startup Weekends around the world coming up April 4-6 at HQ Raleigh.
Co-organizers Lance Cassidy, Sean Maroni and Bilal Bajwa (along with Nick Troxell and Datt Patel) created the event because they believe the Triangle region can be a global leader in product design—from software to hardware to consumer products. But that can only happen with more people combining their creative disciplines with technology, entrepreneurism and a concept called design thinking—designing products that solve a problem or improve lives in some way.
A key goal of the weekend, different from a typical Startup Weekend, is to introduce that concept and help participants put it into practice as they dream up and build prototypes of new products. The men hope the dozens of participants will have backgrounds in engineering, art, marketing, graphic design, product design, software development, construction and more, and they'll take on a variety of projects from smart hardware devices to 'dumb' consumer products. They envision a weekend-long MIT Media Lab, where art and engineering merge and unexpected, cool things start to happen.
"It's connecting those different disciplines and finding innovation that overlaps between them," Cassidy says. "That's what we're all about."
For Maroni, the weekend is also a chance to test out the first BetaBox(pictured above), an old shipping container converted into a creative space with 3-D printers and scanners, laser cutters, craft supplies, simple electronic circuits, reconfigurable furniture and whiteboards lining the walls. His startup BetaVersity has plans to bring the box to corporations, schools and events around the nation, helping to spark creativity and collaboration within workplace teams, students or event attendees.
Maroni's goal is to "disrupt the way education happens." Instead of being in classroom or conference room, "learn by prototyping and doing," he says. He also envisions a day when employers require potential employees to demonstrate their skills using BetaVersity tools.
Cassidy hopes Startup Weekend will introduce more people to the types of design and prototyping exercises he and the other organizers use with clients of DXLab Design, a new design incubator housed within the new HQ Raleigh. (ExitEvent profiled him back in February)
"We're going to frame what is a prototype at the beginning," Cassidy says. "Everyone wants to use the 3D printer and all the supplies. That's not the point of the event. The point is to build just enough prototype to validate customer assumptions."
Like any other Startup Weekend, the event will begin on Friday night with a speaker and pitches. Teams will form around the winning pitches, and Saturday and Sunday will be spent determining how to validate those customer assumptions and build products around them. The teams will present those products Sunday night before judges like Jonathan Gould, CTO of K4Connect, a startup creating a system for managing smart devices in the home, and Greg Hopper, a former senior product manager at NetApp. The winners receive a combination of supplies and resources to move their projects forward after the event.
While the men aren't necessarily trying to prove the crafters wrong, they hope to make a point through Maker Startup Weekend. That entrepreneurs can be creative, and creatives can be entrepreneurs.
“A lot of designers, craftspeople don't think of themselves as entrepreneurs. That's sort of become our mission," Cassidy says. "If you're an industrial designer or a craftsperson, the expertise you have can scale and you can create companies out of it. You have to think differently.”
Register for Startup Weekend here. The early bird rate of $75 ends Friday, March 21.
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