From the Idea Foundry: Starting a Digital Conversation

Growing up, I was that geeky kid who was inspired by images in science fiction books and movies (flying cars, jet packs, elevators into space) and I was frustrated that I was born into a world that didn’t have them yet.

So I decided I’d be one of those people who would help to usher in that era, and I went to school for engineering. However, when I graduated and landed a job designing physics simulation software for the manufacturing industry (where we could virtually make nearly anything), I was surprised when my sister (a sculptor) actually proved to be a much better welder, machinist, and blacksmith than I — a much better maker.

She inspired me to get my hands dirty and build physical things. That introduced me to the maker movement: YouTube as the world’s university; free and open source software that allows us to design nearly anything; machines like 3D printers that make making easier and crowdfunding - if you have a solid idea and a good message, the world will reward you. I fell in love with this culture and created a “clubhouse for makers” called the Idea Foundry.

In half a dozen years, it grew from a small garage to the largest and most active makerspace on the planet. Now we occupy a 65,000-square-foot old factory in Franklinton, Ohio, and we’re home to more than 700 members and more than 300 small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups. Our members have received investments from Sir Richard Branson, Mark Cuban, Steve Case and others in technologies ranging from blockchain to 3D printing to direct-to-consumer products.

The Idea Foundry has been operating for 11 years now, and during that period I have been deeply struck by the potential to scale this culture much larger. Far beyond a single neighborhood in Columbus; beyond tinkerers, artists, and small businesses who are our family now; beyond fun and interesting and quirky events (like flavor-tripping! look it up…).

Having spent the first half of my career in the world of engineering, manufacturing and high-barrier-to-entry projects and the second half in the grassroots world of hobbies, passion-finding, life-long learning, art, community development and startup businesses, I’ve witnessed an inflection point in the value of traditional education, business, even  “way of life.” On the other side of that curve is a new style of life-long learning, self-empowerment and living one’s passion. And now I feel it’s my job to communicate this to anyone who’s interested.

Over my next few posts on this blog, I plan to touch on how I think this culture can scale; how the Idea Foundry navigated culture change from a small grassroots organization into a sustainable, mature company; and to share stories of makers at the Foundry and elsewhere who persisted through challenges to bring their ideas to life.

I look forward to starting this digital conversation here!

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