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The Maker Movement: Small Market, Big Ideas

Jun 04, 2015 03:46PM ● Published by Erica Shames

A new market segment, known as “Makers,” is sweeping the country. Nationwide, 135 million Americans (57 percent of the population) are Makers. The increased access to Maker resources, ranging from 3D printers and laser cutters to CAD programs and open-source hardware, is fueling the development of increasing numbers of Makers.

Within Pennsylvania, Makers range from food start-ups like Columbia County Bread and Granola in Bloomsburg to Light Shield Products, in Lock Haven, which creates Level Light safety products. This small but growing segment of society, with its collection of big ideas, is making a positive impact on our current and future economic climate.   

Big dreams

Bucknell University in Lewisburg is actively promoting the concept of Makers, encouraging them to think outside the box and providing assistance to those who dream of taking their ideas to the next level.

Student Greg Danchik works on the engineering side of Bucknell University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and specializes in helping inventors bring physicality to their ideas with the help of a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. “I first used the printer two years ago in the biomedical engineering lab and now work on a variety of different projects,” said Danchik.  

One such product is being marketed as Pocket Cleats™.  During a recent Tech Meetup Lewisburg meeting, sponsored by the Bucknell SBDC, Danchik explained the product to attendees. The lightweight, titanium alloy, strap-on cleats provide traction on snow and ice and are sold by Vargo Outdoors, founded by Brian Vargo. “The SBDC has been extremely beneficial in assisting with the technical refinement of several of our products,” said Vargo.

Danchik said he finds the work fulfilling. “We help entrepreneurs get their projects up and running. It’s really inspiring when people come in with an idea they’ve poured their life into. If they have their own model, and it’s small enough, we use a 3D scanner to scan it into the computer, thereby enabling us to make small modifications and print it out. If people have a drawing, we use CAD software to design it and print it out,” said Danchik, adding that the SBDC offers assistance with business advice and marketing as well.

Students launch fashion line

Last February, Bucknell students Frank Henry and West Shepherd held a launch party in downtown Lewisburg to promote their clothing company, Frank West. The men are starting out with eight styles of men’s button-down shirts, at a price of $37.99, with the college student’s budget in mind. Shirt offerings will expand to include an additional 11 styles in the near future and a partnership with a student-created menswear company is in the works. “We’ll also offer a line of accessories to include cufflinks, ties, belts, bow ties, handkerchief, hats and socks,” said Shepherd.

Each shirt sports its own tagline, aptly printed on the tag. For instance, a blue rendition called “The Weekender,” sports tiny red polka dots and instructs the wearer to “Embrace the looks you’ll receive today.”

“We want them to get something fun out of it,” said Shepherd, whose interest in fashion goes back to his childhood. “I’ve always been into style. Trying to emulate my dad, I would wear khakis and button-down shirts to class at age 5,” said Shepherd.  

West and his business partner design all the shirts, select the fabric and chose the factory in China where the clothing is made. “We recently visited the factory in Hangzhou and met the owners and worked with some of the seamstresses,” said Shepherd. “I got a great feeling. It’s more of a boutique factory, which fits our brand—they also make Oakley and their own brand [of products].”

Launching a business while attempting to earn a degree might seem like an ambitious task, but West said the timing couldn’t be better. “Being at Bucknell, I have infinite resources available—all of them at no cost,” explained Shepherd. “I have professors and mentors whom I can access at any time, all with crazy market expertise. It’s a huge asset.”

To learn more, visit www.FrankWestco.

A new way to listen

Mark Scheller is another rising entrepreneur who addressed attendees at a recent Tech Meetup Lewisburg meeting. An award-winning, custom-wood floor craftsman, Scheller works on his creation he calls “The Schell™” from his shop in Lemoyne where his business Scheller Hardword Floors, Inc. is based.

The Schell is a personal amphitheater that holds electronic devices like smart phones and tablets, passively doubling the volume of the sound. The product was the result of what could be called a “happy accident.”

Years ago, Scheller took a nail to the eye while working on the job. The injury required eight micro-stiches and eventually rendered him legally blind. “It caused cataracts and I couldn’t work in the field, but I could see enough to work in my shop,” said Scheller, who turned his focus to decorative bowl making during his recuperation.

One day, while working in his shop, Scheller set his phone on a halfway completed bowl, only to discover that it amplified sound emanating from the phone. “I was playing Pandora and Diana Krall was on and it sounded great,” he said.

Today, Scheller makes the clamshell-shaped, personal amphitheaters in wood or colorful acrylic material. Wooden legs are retractable for portability. Scheller’s invention of a portable pouch allows consumers to just grab and go. The phone fits in the front and The Schell sits behind the phone. Users can keep The Schell in the pouch if they desire and listen to music through special “acoustically transparent” fabric. See-through tubing installed in the pouch lights up to alert owners when their phone rings.

The Schell isn’t just for music. Scheller envisions purchasers using the invention to view videos with friends. “Right now, watching a YouTube video on your phone, with others, is limited. With this, several people can be involved. It can even be used to Skype with a group, for a more communal experience,” he said.

Scheller has both national and international patents pending on his invention and is taking the next step to launch a Kickstarter campaign, with assistance from the team at Bucknell. “The bowls are on the backburner now,” he said with a chuckle.

The Schell is currently available at Lewisburg’s Urban Post. To learn more about Scheller’s project, visit: www.SchellDock.com.

To learn more about the services offered by the Bucknell SBDC, visit http://www.bucknell.edu/SBDC.

by Stephanie Kalina-Metzger, a freelance writer based in Camp Hill. Her work appears in numerous publications around the state.

By the Numbers

  • The Maker Movement in Numbers*
  • The White House held its first Maker Faire in June 2014
  • The Maker Movement contributes to 28 million small businesses in the U.S. that create 2 out of every 3 new jobs
  • For every $100 spent in independent stores, $68 returns to the community
  • If half the employed U.S. spent $50 locally each month, $42.6 billion would be generated in revenue for local businesses
  • 8 million new jobs were created by small businesses since 1990; in the same time, big businesses eliminated 4 million jobs

*Source: TheGrommet.com 

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