Innovation Studio matches makers with project requests

Carly Brotherson pulls sock blocks from the laser cutter at Nebraska Innovation Studio Nov. 25. Brotherson made the sock blocks for a yarn store, which requested the project through the new 'Request a Maker' button, which matches makers to projects.

It started as a trickle, but as Nebraska Innovation Studio’s reputation grew, David Martin found himself fielding more and more requests.

“I was getting consistent calls asking if we could make something,” said Martin, director of Innovation Studio. “The word got out that we have incredibly talented makers that can do a lot of different things.

“I was explaining over and over that we’re a makerspace, not a for-hire enterprise.”

But the calls and emails highlighted an obvious need for a new tool at Nebraska Innovation Studio — in addition to the bevy of gadgets available to maker members — only this one needed to be easily accessible to the public.

Martin met with a few of the studio’s board of advisers and they came up with a solution — the “Request a Maker” button on the studio’s homepage.

The service launched in June, and has taken off. On any given day, there are requests for furniture, laser-engraved glassware, even a Star Wars droid. More recently, there have been inquiries for personalized holiday gifts.

“It’s a way to connect makers to people who need something made, but we don’t assign requests,” Martin said. “Makers check the system and if they’re interested in a project, it’s up to them to provide a quote and work with the person on completing the project.

"The requests are all over the place, from a wooden trinket box to a 3D printed lightsaber."

For some makers, it’s a way to fully utilize their membership by having new projects to tackle and earn some extra money. Carly Brotherson, a Nebraska alum, recently took on a request from a yarn store for sock blocks, which stretch and shape recently-knitted socks.

“I’d never heard of them, but they were a simple request, and I now I’m making more to sell myself at makers fairs,” she said.

Quinn McFadden, an architecture major from Omaha, said request-a-maker feature is strengthening his design and build portfolio, which he hopes to turn into a fledgling maker business after he graduates.

“Instead of finding my own clients, there are clients in need of work and there is an immediate contact and selling point,” he said. “When you make that successful connection, and you can do more work for them, that allows you to have more work to show other clients, which is huge. I cannot express how much it's helped."

Martin said he expects the “Request a Maker” button to grow in popularity as word gets out and the metal shop opens Jan. 2, 2020.

“Our makers like to make things,” he said. “That’s the bottom line and this gives them an opportunity to make more.”

by Deann Gayman | University Communication