New paper published on Fab-spaces

The Bit by Bit Team is pleased to announce that Letizia Mortara and Nicolas Parisot’s paper How do Fab-spaces enable entrepreneurship? Case studies of “Makers” – entrepreneurs has been accepted for publication in the forthcoming special issue of the International Journal of Manufacturing Technology and Management “3D Printing: the Next Industrial Revolution” guest edited by Irene Petrick, Thierry Rayna and Ludmila Striukova.

A pre-publication copy of the paper is available here.

Summary

Digital manufacturing technologies – once mostly only accessible to engineers and designers – have, in recent years, become more available to the general public. For non-specialists, an important opportunity to access professional manufacturing technologies is represented by fabrication spaces (fab-spaces), such as Makerspace, TechShops or FabLabs. These include various types of digital manufacturing equipment, such as 3D printers and CNC machines, as well as other types of non-digital tools.  Some fab-spaces are physical spaces, where individuals meet to conduct innovative projects. Other fab-spaces, rather than offering the direct use of machines, offer online services to  remotely support individuals in the design and manufacture of goods.

Whilst not all the users of fab-spaces are necessarily interested in developing a business on the basis of their projects, these environments and facilities could be potentially supportive of entrepreneurship. In this paper, we worked to understand ‘how’ and ‘why’ accessing fab-spaces support entrepreneurs. Through the analysis of the experience of 8 individuals, who have benefitted from fab-spaces to push forward their entrepreneurial ventures, we could conclude that fab-spaces might:

  • Lower the perception of risk and uncertainty that’s involved in the decision of creating a new venture. This is particularly true for physical fab-spaces, for prospective entrepreneurs at the beginning of their entrepreneurial activity, when they are ideating and designing their product ideas. This positive influence is due to the accessibility of technical machinery, and also the availability of competent skills offered by the other people attending these spaces, and to the moral support received. For example, one entrepreneur felt that the community at the fab-spaces was helpful and provided constructive ideas, without the need for him to ‘prove’ the worthiness of his enterprise idea. This experience was in sharp contrast with what he had experienced with the traditional Business Support Organisations, who initially had rejected him, because his business idea was too early stages and too uncertain. By frequenting fab-spaces, he could keep motivated, and develop the project enough to be finally accepted in an incubator and backed by financers.
  • Fab-spaces also provide an opportunity to entrepreneurs for fast learning. Consequently, they can quickly become skilled and be able to identify what practices work best for them. For example, the possibility of producing small batches of their products allows the entrepreneurs to distribute these to prospective users and, as a result, to better understand the market needs and the demands for their innovation, and thence to implement any required changes to their products.

However, this paper also shows how these positive effects might be moderated by the setup of fab-spaces. The accessibility of physical fab-spaces, in terms of location and cost (money and time), is very important, in particular at the start of the entrepreneurial process. It is also important to note that the cultural and institutional environment of fab-spaces could, in some cases, discourage entrepreneurs.

Download the full paper to read more.

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