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The Philosophy of Fab Labs and Maker Spaces

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

This month, April of 2021, marks the end of my fifth year of providing this weekly column of content, mostly about entrepreneurship, business and Fab Lab ICC topics. It is published in the “Independence Daily Reporter” as well as the “Good News.” We have posted all the columns on our web site at fablabicc.org/correll-files. I have received many nice complements over these past five years. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may have noticed that I re-publish a topic occasionally, sometimes with or without updating. Many subjects are timeless as they have to do with the entrepreneurial or “maker” mindset, a mindset that makes people better problem solvers. What follows today are the thoughts about Fab Labs and Maker Spaces from May of 2016 with an updated paragraph at the end. 

The Philosophy in 2016 

There’s a philosophy involved with operating Fab Labs and Maker Spaces that helps make them a special and positive experience for most users as they learn by doing. 

Although not a registered trademark, “Fab Lab” (Fabrication Lab) is generally a reference to a type of Maker Space.  For most of us, “Maker Space” is a more generic term for a space set up to allow people to make things. 

 The philosophy of most Fab Labs is patterned after the first Fab Lab initiated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) circa 2000.  Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, grew tired of seeing smart students in his classes that couldn’t do anything with their hands.  He put together a fabrication laboratory so that students could begin to learn how to manifest their ideas into physical reality (i.e. make things).  Then came a fabrication lab for the community in South Boston.  Barcelona, Spain set up a community “Fab Lab” not long after and the International Fab Lab Network (IFLN) was born. 

When we decided to create Fab Lab ICC in the spring of 2014, there were fewer than 200 Fab Lab members in the IFLN.  Today, there are over 600.  The growth of Fab Labs and Maker Spaces in the world is exploding as people in communities realize the positive and sometimes astounding effects that “making things” has on people’s self-confidence.  It doesn’t seem to matter what age, stage or walk of life, the Fab Lab experience does wonders for all; young, old, gifted, challenged, technical or artistic. 

The IFLN charter, to which we ascribe in order to belong to the network, requires that the Fab Lab facility be available to the community.  We interpret that to mean in “an affordable manner”.  We are a hybrid academic/community Fab Lab, and we are committed to being open to the community at least half of normal business hours each week.  We are open Monday through Thursday, 1:00pm to 8:00pm, Friday 1:00pm – 5:00pm and Saturday, 9:00am – 1:00pm.  That’s 36 hours each week.  The rest of the work week is available for classes and by appointment to members. 

“Affordable” means that an individual can belong to Fab Lab ICC for $100 per year, have access to all machines and only pay for or provide the materials used.  Other categories are available and are also affordable.  The membership fees alone will not sustain the on-going operation, especially considering the cost of staffing and machine repair/replacement.  We’ll always depend partially on donations and grants.  We’ll never be fully staffed as you would expect in a well-run restaurant or hotel, but due to our nature of being a “do-it-yourself” institution, it works.  Our staff, always thin, helps out as we can.  Our members help each other and, in the process, learn better themselves.  We all work together to keep Fab Lab ICC safe, clean and ready for everyone’s next project. 

Update - 2021 

The first items to update are that there are well over 2,000 Fab Labs in the International Fab Lab Network with all kinds of maker spaces and coworking spaces popping up all over. Our individual membership is $125 per year now and, after the pandemic of 2020, our hours are Mon. – Fri. 1 PM to 5 PM, with doors open until 7:30 (work until 8) on Wednesdays; Saturday, 9 AM – 1 PM. 

Since those earlier years, we’ve added more equipment that entrepreneurs can use to start and grow their businesses. We always wanted to be a national leader in how we combine the maker space with entrepreneurship. The two go together perfectly. We have combined the maker space, where promotional items and prototypes can be made, with practical entrepreneurship and business management training along with financial help in the form of gap financing loans. This combination has helped dozens of small business owners grow their businesses, many even through the pandemic of 2020. The combination of entrepreneurial mindset and “maker” philosophy does make a difference in the community and we are working to promote the idea that there should be a Fab Lab or maker space of some kind in every community. 

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 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org. 


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