Silicon Valley's Next Invention May Change Lives Of The Ordinary

Maker festivals have become major venues for hobbyists to show off their projects and hob-nob.

In 2006, 22,000 people descended on magazine publisher Maker Media's first "Maker Faire" in Silicon Valley, a cross between a science fair and jamboree for adults.

Since then, its events have expanded across the United States and into Japan and Europe with a total of 530,000 attendees at affiliated fairs last year.

The flagship annual shindig in San Mateo, California, is on May 17 and 18.  

Most makers are hobbyists, but a handful sell their wares to friends or online and an even smaller group aspires to win backing from investors, or from crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, to manufacture their products.  

Take theater technician Andrew Rutter, who took laser-cutting classes through the maker community in San Francisco soon after immigrating from Britain in 2010.  

He used his new skill to build a high-end 3D printer and soon after launched Type A Machines, which has grown to 21 employees and sold over 500 of the devices, assembling many of them at a former Caterpillar factory.  

"There is a large percentage of people out there who have ideas and want to make stuff, but they lack the training and access to equipment to do it," the 33-year old said.  

Ann Miura-Ko, a self-professed tinkerer and partner at Floodgate, which invests in early-stage startups, believes nostalgia for the Valley days of old plays a role in the Maker boom. 

"Just the same way you have kids who have been coding for 10 years at the age of 16, you're going to see kids who have been making stuff for 10 years at the age of 16. If you see that, you'll know we're ready for the Mark Zuckerberg of hardware." Miura-Ko said.


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