For most inventor / makers taking the decision to move from being creative in one’s spare time to doing it for a living is a bit of an expensive gamble and rather daunting. If you’re self employed for the first time, providing a service or going into product manufacturing there are so many questions to ask when taking those first steps, such as: how much should you charge and how does one factor in all the research and development time, what about all the cost of all components, tools and kit (like those giant tin snips)? Plus legal headaches around contracts, agreements, insurance, liability and IP, oh and don’t forget sustainability, thoughts around open source, robustness, longevity and fit for purpose-ness that fun new technology practices bring… Arghh *brainspoldes*! And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, there’s yet to evolve a go-to resource for UK Makers get the answers or advice to these pressing questions.
Personally, I’ve been following links and tips from the myriad of inventors sites (& ignoring ‘inventor promoter’ scams!). For standard business info there’s Business Link & HMRC. I’ve also found my local business enterprise club has some good workshops and seminars on sole trader issues, tax and marketing. Plus if you’re close to London, the British Library Business Centre has some really good free and paid for workshops, seminars and surgeries. There’s also funding and support from initiatives such as the Technology Strategy Board, NESTA and Kickstarter.
So in July I was really pleased to hear about the launch at NESTA of Makers’ Guild ‘a membership organization to support and promote ‘Makers’ of all flavours from artists to technicians, from coders to crafters’, which has been founded by Rachel Coldicutt and Fiddian Warman. It was good to go along and hear talks from fellow makers, inventors and founders, plus chat to like-minded people. They have a website and I’m looking forward to when they have time to populate it with some more info – that wasn’t sarcasm, it takes time to build these resources up, what with having a life, etc, so I wonder if it might be an idea to give a shout to the maker community to get behind it and to submit their fav links, biogs, articles and some guests on the forum to get the ball rolling? [Gah, that’s me with my ex-BBC senior producer hat on]
Anyway, last Friday I went along to the Maker’s Guild’s next event: ‘Makers’ Money – the business of making’ at the lovely Crafts Council offices, where the Makers’ Guild put on three talks by inventors/makers who were getting on with the business of commercially making or supporting makers.
It was really inspiring to hear some personal stories, so if you’re an inventor, a maker or interested is what’s going on in this area, look the following entrepreneurs up!
First up was Jane ní Dhulchaointigh of sugru (patented as Formerol) which is a multi-purpose variant of silicone that is rather like modeling clay and can be used for making, modifying and fixing things – I’ve seen it at Maker Faire, but haven’t had a play with it yet. It’s had rave reviews, TIME Magazine listed sugru alongside the iPad as one of the top 50 inventions of 2010. Jane is as former product design student of the Royal College of Art, where she experimented with mixing various materials together such as bathroom sealant and sawdust, which lead to her realising the potential to develop a useful substance. NESTA Creative Pioneer and angel funding gave her the opportunity to start a business, fund development, design and do user trials. The first 1000 packs sold out in 6 hours and now sugru has customers in 76 countries and a factory in east London. Jane hopes to break even in a year or so.
Up next was Christopher Pett of Makersco, who realised there was a niche for uniqueness and smaller scale production. This service grew from a postgraduate innovation research project at Goldsmiths College. His company makes life for makers and designers easier by taking ideas and designs from concept and working them up to prototyping, testing, analysis, production and supply chain management. They don’t take any IP from makers and work with UK manufacturers and suppliers. Makers also help with marketing strategy, brand guidelines and sales materials. Christopher also runs Pli Design – a sustainable furniture design company, specialising in bamboo.
Last but not least, was Mark Champkins, an inventor who started making things for his family business when he was a schoolboy. His company, Concentrate, is all about making accessories that help children concentrate and be more productive at school, such as a pencil case / water bottle hybrid and a bag that also drapes across a chair to make it more comfortable. He was lucky to build up a good relationship with a buyer at John Lewis who helped him hone his product ideas for their customers. Mark went on Dragons Den, not to get money, but for publicity, but he still got funding. He is also the Science Museum’s Inventor in Residence where he is doing a product range based on their archives. He’s also written a book on celebrity inventions!
After the individual talks a panel Q&A discussion followed where topics such as open product licensing: digital to physical came up and the Awesome Foundation money awards were discussed (there’s a London chapter). A few people stood up and introduced themselves and their ideas, which was very relaxed, followed by a bit of saying hello to friends & making new ones before hometime.