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The Maker Movement

As a recent Economist article notes, there is a quiet but potentially revolutionary transformation taking place in how things are manufactured.  The “maker” movement, with meetups and online SIGs of one sort or another, combines crowdsourcing, open-source or otherwise open hardware platforms, 3d printing, and a “Mechanical Turk”-style world organization of small handicrafters and manufacturers to create a new manufacturing system (dare we call it a paradigm) which will turn the idea of “economies of scale” on its head.

I have friends who prototype small systems — mainly, today, small systems for manufacturing other small systems, such as precision X-Y milling platforms, or Arduino-based controllers — at home, using a growing infrastructure of free or cheap prototyping platforms.  When they are ready, they farm these systems out to small manufacturing boutiques (in Eastern Europe for the most part, although I have no idea if this is an authentic regional specialization or an accident of my friends’ Rolodices.  If any of these systems took off, my friends could scale up to Tier 2 contract manufacturers.  This kind of easily-scalable manufacturing allows all kinds of long-tail ideas to be tried; only those that catch hold get big production runs.

I’m looking for profitable ways to invest in the Maker Movement.  I think the U.S. innovation policy community should figure out ways to have us capture an unfair share of Maker Movement business.  In any case, it’s something to bet on.


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About the author

an Gordon is Research Director for Valhalla Partners, a Northern Virginia venture capital firm. Dan has twenty-eight years experience working with technology, as a computer scientist, software developer, manager, analyst, and entrepreneur. Prior to joining Valhalla Partners, Dan was a Director and senior staff member at the PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Technology Centre, analyzing technology trends and consulting on technology-oriented strategies in the software, e-business, wireless, optical, networking, semiconductor IP, and life sciences arenas. He worked with clients from North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. Dan was a Contributing Writer and Contributing Editor to the Technology Centre’s annual Technology Forecast, and a frequent speaker at industry and general business meetings. Before joining PwC, Dan spent 20 years in Silicon Valley as a software technologist, manager, director, and entrepreneur, including senior technical roles at well-known Silicon Valley firms like Symantec, Intuit, and Oracle. Dan has also been involved in startup companies in the applied Artificial Intelligence and Web applications fields. Dan has a B.A. (cum laude) from Harvard University and an M.S. from New York University in Computer Science. He is a Professional Member of the IEEE and ACM. Dan lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two children.