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Fab Lab for Business 

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

The core Fab Lab ICC team returned from a conference recently chock full, overflowing, with new ideas about how to improve the programming and services for our Fab Lab ICC members and stakeholders. The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) is one of the most entrepreneurial and fastest growing organizations in the United States. I think I joined NACCE circa 2008 and attended the first national conference in 2009.  

Making Community Colleges More Entrepreneurial 

NACCE has always been about helping community colleges figure out how to be more entrepreneurial, from the way they operate to the way they try to provide education and training for entrepreneurs. It's been a great organization and I can trace all of my major advancements in fostering entrepreneurship to the knowledge I've learned and relationships I've developed through my involvement in this group. At NACCE 2011, I learned about the revolutionary Ice House entrepreneurship program. At NACCE 2013, a chance meeting set the stage for what led to the initial Fab Lab ICC funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. 

In 2013, in a NACCE break out session, I presented the idea that community colleges should make their technical programs more entrepreneurial and use a Fab Lab or maker space to help do so. I found that many people at this conference in Charlotte, North Carolina either didn't know about the Fab Lab movement or were unsure of what Fab Labs and maker spaces were. 

The good news today is that NACCE is heavily involved in the "Maker Movement." The challenging news is that most people have not been introduced to the potential of Fab Labs and maker spaces to help with business development although many community colleges are engaged in activities toward inspiring business start-ups and growth. Nearly all of the people I spoke to at NACCE 2018 know about Fab Labs and maker spaces. Many have them on their campuses. But, many think the main offering for businesses is the ability to prototype new products therefor not necessarily helpful for the majority of their entrepreneurs and small business constituents. 

Aids for Small Business Owners 

From the beginning, we've worked to have equipment and services available through Fab Lab ICC to help entrepreneurs and small business owners start and grow their businesses in many ways besides just prototyping new productsWe will continue our efforts to inform people locally and around the country about how Fab Labs and maker spaces can help businesses grow. 

We have a nice laser printer members can use to print flyers, business cards, brochures, signs and placards. There's a real estate agent that regularly uses this printer to produce property flyers to mail to his customer list. Tabatha Snodgrass uses this printer for a variety Independence Main Street printed items. For both of these examples, printing at Fab Lab ICC provides a higher quality and lower cost than is possible with their ink jet printers common in small businesses. 

We have a wide media solvent-based printer members can use to print banners, adhesive vinyl, vehicle and wall wraps, decals and stickers, posters and even flags. Solvent based technology provides saturated color that is fade and weather resistant. We regularly have small business owners using this printer. For those too busy to use the printer themselves, we have entrepreneurs willing to do the work for them as a business service. 

We have a plasma cutting table that can be used to cut sheet metal for use in signs and wall decorations. Our lasers can be used to etch promotional items like glasses, plaques and awards. We have a paper cutter that will cut a stack of paper at once. We have equipment that can be used for recording pod casts and videos. We just took delivery on an embroidery machine that can be used to add logos and names to apparel and caps. We'll soon have a button machine to make promotional pin-on and campaign buttons. 

More Than High Tech Prototyping 

In short, besides all the high tech prototyping tools like 3D printing and scanning, we strive to have a collection of tools entrepreneurs and small business owners can use to start and grow their businesses. We try to choose tools such that are beyond the reach of many small businesses due to size and/or expense to own. Fab Labs and makers spaces have a huge potential in aiding small business development.

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. 


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