Faire market value
Tinkerers exhibition holds promise for state, backers say
Where: The Henry Ford
When: July 30 and Aug. 1
Tickets: $25 adults, $16 youth, $23 seniors
More info: http://makerfaire.com/detroit/2010
Imagine a Go-Kart that shoots Twinkies, a motor-powered metal cupcake and a gaggle of giant robots sharing a parking lot with high-wheeler cyclists in period costumes. This strange assembly is Maker Faire, a version of which is coming to The Henry Ford this month and drawing creative entries from around the Midwest.
The original Maker Faire, in San Mateo, Calif., draws up to 80,000 visitors and more than 1,000 exhibitors each spring, generating more than $1 million in ticket sales alone. The fair has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006, intriguing the curators of The Henry Ford, who sought to host the first Maker Faire outside of California on July 30 and Aug. 1. Sponsors anticipate 180 exhibitors will entertain a crowd of 10,000 on the museum's front parking lot.
“The passion for innovation and building is infectious,” says Russ Wolfe, 31, a Ferndale-based electronics tinkerer by night who visited the California festival in April and became so enchanted he signed on to help recruit creative entrepreneurs to Dearborn. “I love seeing all the grass-roots efforts by people who put tons of money and time into creating.”
Wolfe, president of Ferndale-based i3Detroit, a collective of young hobbyists, joins some of Michigan's largest economic engines working to rev up Detroit's crafting community.
Sponsors include the Michigan Economic Development Corp., New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, Ford Motor Co. Fund, U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Division, JP Morgan Chase and Co. and Pepsico Inc.
Ford gave $25,000 and NEI invested $250,000, including subsidized admission for 500 young people.
“Hobbyists, professional builders and do-it-yourselfers are re-emerging at events like this. It is an outgrowth of the way we live, what we are doing by necessity and how we inspire others,” said Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of Make magazine, a hipster version of Popular Science. Dougherty founded and organized five consecutive Maker Faires in San Mateo and lent his know-how to The Henry Ford.
The museum bills the festival as a two-day family-friendly event. Nearly everything exhibited will be made in the Midwest.
“Creativity and resourcefulness have changed the world,” said Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford. She reminded visitors at a preview night in June that Detroit is home of one of the world's most famous tinkerers: Henry Ford himself. His 1901 Quadricycle will tool around the festival along with other inventions by famous tinkerers. Visitors can also tour the labs of Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver inside Greenfield Village.
But the Maker Faire also represents a new wave of possibilities that could fuel the future of the state, Mooradian said. Museum staff members are actively reaching out for more makers to ratchet up the momentum. Intuit, the producer of QuickBooks and other small business services, issued a white paper on hobbyists as entrepreneurs.
Hobbypreneurs — the do-it-yourselfer clan that make things for fun and profit — represent one of the fastest growing segments of the new economy, according to Intuit's December 2009 “Future of Small Business Report.”
Intuit found that 66 percent of the 400-plus exhibiters at the Maker Faire were existing small businesses looking to showcase their craftsmanship or explore new business ventures. Almost all of these businesses started as hobbies and 10 percent were still at the hobby stage.
“What was exciting at Maker Faire was the consistent story of hobbyists turning into hobbypreneurs. Statistically, it wasn't the exception; it was the rule,” Intuit wrote. Only 3 percent of people interviewed made things purely for fun.
“These frugal, tech-savvy, green-oriented, out-of-the-box thinkers are creating new business methods, models and processes. And along the way, they are spurring growth and innovation in the small business marketplace,” Intuit writes.
Meet the makers
Inside i3Detroit, an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Ferndale's industrial district, 15 young tinkerers solder, pound, sew and mold crafts into objects of art and interest. Almost 40 people pay $40 to $90 a month to use the space and its tools. The money covers rent, equipment and supplies.
“The $90 members get first dibs, premium access for storage and voting rights in committee,” said spokesman Nick Britsky.
By day, Britsky is an account executive for the Scripps Networks in Southfield. At night, he'll put on coveralls and help a friend create a beer growler organ out of discarded beer jugs from a brew pub.
“We're the Kinko's of the maker world. The shop is something that is working toward being a business. We provide access to people who need a lathe or other shop equipment,” he said.
The group began about a year ago with meetings at the Coffee Beanery in Berkley, then rented a small space in downtown Royal Oak. By cutting a deal with the owner of a defunct Ferndale tool and die shop, they acquired rental space. It has 12 Maker Faire submissions at the ready.
Intuit cites a couple of hobby crafters who developed businesses. Always Quilting, an online quilting supply business owned by Kit Morse and Julie McAuliffe of San Mateo, grew out of the Maker Faire. So did Scraper Bikes. Owner Tyrone Stevenson started by teaching kids how to make colorful streamers out of recycled materials to adorn their bicycles. His company now also sells clothing and accessories.
Wendy Metros, director of communications for The Henry Ford, said entries to Maker Faire will be accepted until mid-July. They already have more than 100 submissions. Ticket sales continue until the day of the event. If successful, The Henry Ford hopes it will become an annual event. Nearly all the proceeds will go to subsidize the exhibition and any profits will be used to make the fair even larger next year.
Among the sponsors, NEI Executive Director David Egner is bullish on the outcome.
“Supporting the Maker Faire is a natural for a philanthropic effort that has a goal of promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. … It is an opportunity to celebrate the innovation spirit that made the Detroit region great and will make it great again.”