Join Xconomy and TechShop on April 27 for “The Maker Revolution: From Workbench to Business”

There’s something amazing happening in garages, basement workshops, and hackerspaces across the country. Generations raised on mass consumption, the local mall, and ordering products online from Amazon are rediscovering the joy of making stuff—and sometimes selling it. In fact, the twisty path from being a “maker” to being a full-blown entrepreneur is being traced by a growing number of people, especially now that there are resources like TechShop, the chain of membership-based workshops I profiled in December.

This phenomenon is worth a closer look—and next Wednesday night, April 27, TechShop and Xconomy San Francisco are getting together to host an informal evening event called The Maker Revolution: From Workbench to Business. TechShop is hosting this free event at its impressive new San Francisco facility at 926 Howard Street in SoMa, and I’ll be moderating a panel discussion about how greater access to tools, software, and other resources is fostering a vibrant community of creators and businesspeople in the Bay Area and beyond.

Joining us for the event will be Dale Dougherty, a co-founder of O’Reilly Media and the editor and publisher of MAKE Magazine; Andy Filo, inventor of the i-Cybie robot dog; Kate Sofis, the executive director of SFMade, a non-profit promoting the manufacturing sector in San Francisco; and Mark Hatch, the CEO of TechShop.

Each of these panelists will bring a unique perspective to the discussion. Dale Dougherty has been following—indeed, helping to invent—the entire maker phenomenon through his magazine and O’Reilly’s expanding series of Maker Faire events. Filo is dedicated to perfecting the process of invention—he has a small home shop designed to help him “go from a concept or invention to reality in the shortest time possible.” Sofis’s organization is helping to ensure that local craftspeople and entrepreneurs have the ability to flourish. And Hatch brings an experience running big service organizations like Kinko’s computer services business to the growing TechShop chain, where 30 to 60 percent of members use the facilities to build things they eventually hope to sell.

The 'Innovation Cathedral' area at TechShop San Francisco

Along those lines: You’ve probably heard of Dodocase, the San Francisco company that sells fancy leatherbound cases for the Apple iPad. But did you know that Dodocase founders Patrick Buckley and Craig Dalton did all the prototyping and early production runs for the Dodocase at TechShop’s Menlo Park, CA, location? Clustered Systems is another great example: electrical engineer Phil Hughes and a partner spent a year using TechShop tools to build a prototype liquid cooling system for computer servers. Today Clustered Systems is selling its system to owners of data centers, where they reduce energy consumption for cooling by as much as 50 percent. The company is busy hiring engineers, technicians, and salespeople to cope with the demand.

With design software and prototyping equipment coming down in cost to the point that regular folks can rent access to it for $100 a month, the barriers to starting small-scale manufacturing operations like these are coming down fast, and on April 27 we’ll examine both the opportunities and the pitfalls inherent in this trend. We’ll also hear quick presentations from several local entrepreneurs who are making good on their dreams. The event (which is free, but please register here) gets underway at 6 pm with mingling and tours of TechShop.The formal program will go from 6:30 to 8 pm, followed by more networking and tours. I hope you’ll be able to join us.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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