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Sunday, 03 August 2014 22:00

Q&A: Casey DuBois, GR Makers LLC

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Casey DuBois, GR Makers LLC Casey DuBois, GR Makers LLC COURTESY PHOTO


Growing up around the automotive industry, Casey DuBois always had a penchant for creating. It came as no surprise to those around him when in May 2013 he helped launch the GR Makers LLC, which today has more than 100 local members. DuBois was at the forefront of the effort to connect creators with one another and with resources and is helping promote the Mini Maker Faire being held at the Grand Rapids Public Museum on Aug. 30-31. He spoke with MiBiz about the impact of the Maker Movement on the business community.

How do you describe GR Makers?

The one liner we use is that it’s a gym membership with tools. In reality, we do offer space and tools, but people are the real resource we have. We’re a community and our members help each other.

Why did you launch this group?

The old-world, hands-on philosophy seems to be coming back. We’ve become a disposable society, but lately people have (started feeling) guilty about throwing things away, so now they want to fix and create. That’s what’s really helping push the Maker Movement right now.

What does that spirit of inventiveness and creation bring to the business world?

A lot of great ideas. We’ve had a lot of successful students coming through: Justin Herd with OneBowl and Sergio Troiani with his all-aluminum iPhone case, KLOQE. Both of those guys have run successful Kickstarter campaigns and are trying to sell their products. There are also a couple of products that we have in the health care field being distributed and actively sold. We were able to help them get their products out there and create a market.

How is the Maker Movement addressing calls among employers — particularly in manufacturing — to find skilled talent?

Now that automotive is picking back up, companies are desperate to hire people back, but most of those people have moved out of the state. They’re in dire need for people trained to run CNC lathes and mills and multi-axis machines. We’d like to be able to run classes on our CNC mill, identify the talent, and then hand them over to local companies that need them and bridge that gap.

What sort of projects do the GR Makers focus on?

It’s across the board. We grow organically depending on what our people want to do.

Are you seeing a lot of sole entrepreneurs with funded projects working here or are these people with day jobs working on the side?

It’s a mix, but most people have day jobs. That’s why it’s kind of quiet around here during the day. But on nights and weekends, this place is hopping. … One of our members builds houses all day, then at night works on his electric motorcycle project.

Beyond tools, you offer dedicated workspace for companies. What does that bring to the table?

We have four offices that are all taken. One of the members (Tinypint Inc.) creates WordPress websites (for) when our makers create a new product and they need a website to sell it. It’s perfect for him to be right here. He does probably 80 percent of the websites for our members. Having his office right here gives him access to everybody and helps grow his business. The goal is to have our members in the offices outgrow us and move on.

Grand Rapids is hosting a Mini Maker Faire at the end of August. What will that event mean for the local Maker Movement?

We had been wanting to do a faire for the last couple of years, but it required a lot of space and logistics. When we found out that the museum had already applied, we said, ‘Great, you have the space. We’ll bring the makers and bring it all together.’ Bringing Maker Faire to Grand Rapids is going to help expose all of these people’s projects to the world and have them get out there and show their products. There is a big need for it. It’s also a kid-friendly event where you can show them things like a 3-D printer that a high school kid made for $100. That’s inspiring and lets (kids) know that even though they might not be able to go to college, they can make something.

Where do you see the Maker Movement heading?

A couple of years ago, there were about 1,500 makerspaces worldwide and over 500 in the U.S., but those numbers have drastically changed over the years in the U.S. We’ve helped start other makerspaces and we know that soon there will be a day when there are makerspaces 30 minutes from everybody — whether that is in a school, library or traditional makerspace.

Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand.

Read 3962 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 10:34

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