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The Tools of Trade: Exploring the Connections Between Entrepreneurship and the Maker Movement

May 3, 2018

By Melinda White

It began with the penning of a first draft, as all investigative doctoral endeavors must. Russ Browder, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in Entrepreneurship at Baylor, started connecting the dots between a phenomenon known as “the maker movement” and the catalytic effect it seemed to be having on large-scale corporations and entrepreneurial individuals alike. This phrase, coined in 2006, presented an idea that resonated with Browder, goading him to draft a paper exploring the possibility of an interaction between this movement and its impact on entrepreneurship as a whole.

In a finalized paper co-authored by Steve Bradley, associate professor of Entrepreneurship and faculty director of the John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise, and Howard Aldridge, Kenan professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Browder delved into the societal and economic benefits of the maker movement. This movement is essentially a fusion of dexterity and creative ingenuity, bound by a newfound accessibility of facilities and tools for the everyday person, thus promoting collaboration and innovation on multiple levels.

“One phrase that people have used to describe this is the ‘democratization of research and development,’” Browder said, “and one of the impacts that this is having, potentially, on our economy and on our society is that people can get their hands on the… tools of invention that used to only be available to very large companies, research laboratories and universities that had credentials, expertise and budgets.”

At the Academy of Management Annual Meeting in August 2017, Browder presented “Entrepreneurship Research, Makers and the Maker Movement,” which featured the three core dimensions of the maker movement, discussed the numerous benefits of such a movement, and posed this basic research question: “Under what conditions do people and companies use the resources of the maker movement to move towards entrepreneurship and commercial ends?”

The maker movement is buoyed by three key dimensions: the technology dimension, marked by its ever-present evolution and growing accessibility to ordinary people; the social dimension, made up of a community of people who desire to create; and the space dimension, consisting of either physical spaces, often called “maker spaces,” or digital spaces, which provide platforms for collaboration between numerous entities, such as companies that crowdsource and allow individuals to bring their innovative ideas to the corporate table.

But what exactly is a maker space?

“The first two dimensions that I mentioned, the technology and the social dimensions, frequently overlap in a physical way because people are making material goods,” Browder said. “They overlap in spaces where people come together around the use of shared tools. There are physical spaces where people do this, and it’s called a maker space.”

Technological innovations such as laser cutters, 3D printers and CNC routers are prime examples of the tools that people utilize within a maker space to bring their ideas to fruition.

In his presentation, Browder expanded on this idea by accentuating the importance of the maker movement’s impact on not just individuals, groups and companies, but on a macro level regarding local and national policy.

“We can study on all of those different levels, the company, the individual, the group, and we can start to ask, ‘What are the implications of this at the policy level for cities and countries, and how could this impact the economy as well?’” Browder said. “A lot of people have high hopes on the potential impacts of the maker movement for the economy and for increasing the rate of entrepreneurship… but the movement itself would benefit from more research about when it does or doesn’t lead to entrepreneurship and economic outcomes most effectively.”

Although there is no definitive evidence that affirms this yet, it is clear that the various barriers to entry that once existed, such as the ability to access training or costly hardware and software, have eroded and no longer hinder the everyday person wanting to use a maker space.

“While the maker movement might not have directly caused those barriers to drop, it’s a way to see that something has changed,” Browder said. “As scholars, we have to ask: Can we actually learn something new and different about entrepreneurship by looking at [the maker movement]?”

Browder acknowledges that while there is still research to be conducted and field work to be completed, his interest in this topic remains as he continues to advance the paper and pursue publication.

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