To Profit or Not to Profit

What is the right model for a makerspace? Is it a membership-driven, profit generating, entrepreneur-launching enterprise? Or is it a community-building project that creates a new kind of third space for people to collaborate and learn? This is a question that continues to come up in our discussions about spaces and what the future looks like for makerspaces and the maker movement.

Katelyn mentioned a panel that she attended in D.C. during her recent trip to the ALA conference where a panelist essentially admitted that his profit-driven model for a makerspace is broken. We've seen for profit spaces close recently, and it seems that a for profit makerspace is a very difficult business model to sustain.

In Fishers, Indiana, where we record Maker Riot, we see a very vibrant engagement with makerspaces. Katelyn's Ignite Studio is a great example of a thriving community-resource model of a space that exists in a public library. There are other examples that are more hybrid. For example, the Fishers Internet of Things Lab contains all of the traditional makerspace tools (laser engravers, 3D printers, etc...), but it doesn't exist as "just" a makerspace. Tenants are paying leases for office space and the makerspace aspect is just one part of the function of the lab.

The writer Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From talks about two important principles that apply to this discussion. The first is the idea of the adjacent possible and the second is the importance of the network. The importance of the network is something that we constantly talk about on the show. Makerspaces spark new ideas because ideas are forced to collide with other ideas inside the space. This morphs ideas and sparks new ideas. The other important point is the adjacent possible. If you are unfamiliar with this term it is essentially that innovation happens as a result of exposing ideas to new possibilities. An often cited example of this is that E-Bay couldn't have been invented in 1950. It required the exposure of new platforms and technologies to become possible.

Perhaps the future of spaces looks a lot like the hybrid models that we are seeing more of. As business processes become more distributed, perhaps companies will begin to see the value of employees having access to diverse networks and exposure to new technologies as a way to drive innovation in their for profit ventures. There can only be a benefit to opening these spaces to the community to allow for a greater diversity of talent, ideas, and technologies. We see projects like OpenIdeo these days that open up design problems to the public to leverage diverse ideas. Perhaps the future looks a lot like this in makerspaces and we all get to benefit from it.

What do you think? Profit vs. Nonprofit? What is the future? What are you seeing in your

space? What is working in your community? Let's chat!