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The Making University: the 2015 London Maker Faire

A big splash greets readers of The Observer this morning, that London will hold the annual Maker Faire in the summer of 2015 on the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park.

The faire – the first of which to be held outside of the US – is to hosted by Here East, the partners of Loughborough University in London on the park.

High Value Manufacturing

I write as the enterprise lead for Loughborough University’s London campus, a university which has just been awarded its seventh Queen’s Anniversary Prize, this time for High Value Manufacturing, and which has enterprise sown into its DNA.

We currently provide entrepreneurship and innovation management education to all our academic schools via the Glendonbrook Centre for Enterprise Education.

This isn’t just a shameless plug for Loughborough (well, not completely).

The presence of the Maker Faire in 2015 and of Loughborough’s own making spaces on the Olympic Park raises some questions about the role of universities in the Maker movement.

Community and the Eco-system

For my colleagues in Loughborough Design School and in the engineering schools they see little new in this wave of making opportunities – rapid prototyping, making and tinkering are significant elements of the degree programmes and extra-curricula opportunities on campus.

Teaching future engineers how to make best use of the technologies available to them, whilst providing that spark of inspiration, is what my colleagues do day in day out.

World-class making spaces also provide community and eco-system: people that work in them are infected with the bug of that community ethos.

HereEast Canal Side resized

Key ingredients

But a necessary pre-condition of all viable businesses is, of course, a paying customer.

Successful making is partly about amazing product and innovation. It can also be about the rapidity of the prototype and shortening the time to get to market, but without a paying customer the making is just for fun.

So, key ingredients for the success of our new class of makers will be understanding product design and innovation from a demand pull through perspective: what does the market need and want?

Understanding the market

The best innovations often come not from the most technically gifted individuals, but from those who understood the market the best. Commercialisation is – therefore – every bit as important as product.

Providing effective education on this is the challenge not just for Loughborough but for all the London higher and further education providers, to get the London making ecosystem working effectively.

Lastly, there is a maxim that the best ideas will find their way to money – or conversely that money finds its way to good ideas.

But I’m not convinced that this is always true. Knowledge of finance (and as importantly what the implications are for various routes) as well as facilitated networking are strong accelerants for innovative, making start-ups to find the capital to bring products to their market place.

The future of the London making community

The London making community that will simultaneously showcase and inspire through their works in the summer of 2015 will create further demand for making space in the capital.

It is our job to ensure that we have technically able, commercially and financially aware makers to capitalise on this opportunity.

Dr Rob Dover is Associate Dean (Enterprise) at Loughborough University in London.