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The Business of Making

By: Brittany Sickler
Economic Development Specialist
North Dakota District Office

The maker movement is gaining more attention than ever, especially through a recent White House event that highlighted the work of students, entrepreneurs and innovators from across the country.

Here’s what President Obama had to say about the occasion: “Our parents and our grandparents created the world’s largest economy and strongest middle class not by buying stuff, but by building stuff — by making stuff, by tinkering and inventing and building. [N]ew tools and technologies are making the building of things easier than ever.”

What is “making”?
Dale Dougherty of Maker Media explains it as “creating, producing, crafting, shaping, tinkering, composing and building. It covers many areas of interest and many skills, and projects often combine several of each. Making sits at the intersection of art and science, and at the crossroads of technology and design.” It does not encapsulate only one type of person, or even industry, as makers include crafters, inventors, hackers, educators, mechanics, scientists and artists. Although the terminology of making may seem new – appearing more frequently within the last ten years – tinkerers and creators can be found in all the history books. They started industries, disrupted the status quo, and embraced creativity on a personal, community or worldwide level.

Hobby to business
It’s been proven that makers or hobbyists regularly find themselves becoming entrepreneurs, especially those who come up with products to sell and do so through starting their own business. Artists and designers are continuing to find new outlets to connect and sell their work online, beyond the walls of a gallery; crowdfunding is giving more and more people the opportunity to raise funds and build a following at the same time; anyone with an idea now can easily prototype with 3D printing.

The marketplace holds great potential when it comes to its ability to share ideas and trends. However, navigating that world can be daunting, especially for those with no business background, or for initiatives that have never been done before. Besides meeting with SCORE or a Small Business Development Center to discuss and prep your idea, the following federal and state resources may help:

  • Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (MEP) – a nationwide network providing services from innovation strategies to process improvements to workforce development, with a focus on helping manufacturers develop new customers, expand into new markets and create new products. Call 1-800-MEP 4 MFG or visit www.nist.gov/mep.
  • Inventor’s Assistance Program (IAP) – engages in a range of educational and outreach services to help inventors in understanding the value of protecting their intellectual property and how to navigate the patent process. IAP provides outreach, support and education to independent inventors through various means.  Visit www.uspto.gov/inventors/iac.
  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) – a highly competitive program that helps small businesses acquire research and development funds, enabling them to develop technologies that offer solutions to the nation’s more pressing scientific and engineering problems while earning profit from commercialization.  More details at www.sbir.gov.
  • United States Copyright Office: www.copyright.gov.
  • The United States Patent and Trademark Office: www.uspto.gov.
  • Intellectual Property information and assistance: http://www.stopfakes.gov.
  • Technology-Based Entrepreneurship Grant (TBEG) – a program from the ND Department of Commerce, this potentially two-phase grant is for businesses using technology in an innovative way.  Administered through one of the state’s 6 Entrepreneurial Centers.  More information at www.commerce.nd.gov/innovate/TechnologyBasedEntrepreneurshipGrants.
  • Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) – a program from the ND Department of Commerce, it fosters the development of new and expanded uses of North Dakota agricultural products. APUC dollars can be used for product research, prototype development, feasibility studies, marketing plans and activities where there is a strong potential for development, commercialization and job creation in North Dakota. Visit http://www.business.nd.gov/apuc.
  • Innovate ND – assists entrepreneurs in the development of their business idea, and provides access to great venture tools, online entrepreneur education and resources.  An innovative approach is required, and the venture must serve a market outside of their initial community. More information at http://www.commerce.nd.gov/innovate/ProgramDetails.

Brittany Sickler has been an Economic Development Specialist for the North Dakota District Office since 2013. Prior to joining the SBA, Brittany served as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Sustainable Community Tourism in Guatemala. She holds degrees in Business Administration and Spanish from Indiana Wesleyan University and a Master of Science in International Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University. Brittany can be reached at brittany.sickler@sba.gov.