Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Our field coordinator gets into innovation at a gathering of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance.

Philadelphia was once known as the “Workshop of the World.” It recently lived up to its old name when it hosted the 3rd Annual Convening of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA).

The event was held so that UMA members and likeminded manufacturers and enthusiasts could trade ideas on how best to support and promote the urban manufacturing sector.

Here’s why: While domestic manufacturing everywhere has shown signs of growth and added jobs, the urban manufacturing sector has shown a particularly vigorous resurgence in many U.S. cities. A big part of this revival is not in the plants and mills that once housed thousands of workers and large production lines and machining, but in small sites with 20 to 30 employees.

The conversation at the two-day event covered a wide range of topics such as identifying funding resources, economic development grants for site locations, and other help for manufacturing startups.  I heard a lot of industry terms, like “Makers Movement” and “additive manufacturing.” Several panel members spoke to their own experiences in starting a product line and the process they went through.  But there was one story that I found particularly amazing.

DODO Pulls the Pieces Together

In April 2010 Apple announced a new product line called “iPad” (you may have heard of it). And out in the Bay Area of California, Patrick Buckley saw the release and thought, “Hey, I got an idea.”

The idea was to produce a cover for this new Apple product line.

So, after playing around a bit with a design for his new iPad cover, Buckley went to Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, a business that offers everyday people the use of equipment like laser cutters, 3-D printers, and C&C machines. He rented some time in a TechShop space (there are a bunch of them), and in no time his product was developed and DODOcase was born.

Buckley’s next challenge was marketing his product. Well, since Apple stores held his prospective customers captive, Buckley hired several people through Craigslist to stand outside of them and hand out flyers describing Dodo.

After that, it was off to the races. Buckley went from producing a handful of covers a month to currently around 200 units a day. He has 25 full-time employees working in a 2,500 square-foot space in San Francisco. His original $500 dollar investment now nets a couple of million annually in sales.

But here's the real moral of the story: You don’t need a load of capital to see an idea through to fruition. And you don’t need to own your own workspace. But if you are intuitive, creative, and driven, there are opportunities to be had in the new world of manufacturing. You’ve got to be a self-starter. Same as it ever was.