April 8, 2019
FOCUS: Startups & Entrepreneurs

MakerspaceCT is Hartford’s latest entrepreneurial incubator

Devra Sisitsky Executive Director, MakerspaceCT

Q&A talks with Devra Sisitsky, executive director of MakerspaceCT.

Q. Your 20,000-square-foot MakerspaceCT facility is set to debut April 13 in the basement of the historic G. Fox building, 960 Main St. For those who aren't familiar with what a makerspace is, can you tell us what it is and involves?

A. We are incredibly proud to be the largest makerspace in Connecticut, and the second largest in New England. Makerspaces are dedicated to helping makers, designers, creators and entrepreneurs bring their vision of a new product to fruition — translating an idea into a tangible, manufactured item.

Nationally, the 'Maker Movement' fuels reinvigorated manufacturing, making tools for designing and building something readily available.

The American resurgence in do-it-yourself (DIY) activities include electronics, robotics, 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters, CNC machines, tools, metalworking, woodworking and more traditional arts and crafts, all of which can find a home at MakerspaceCT.

The movement is also sparking renewed interest among students and adults in STEAM learning (science, technology, engineering, arts, math), and is a catalyst for new businesses and business expansion. The ripple effect has also become apparent, because once these maker products get launched, the new company needs all kinds of support — logistics, packaging, marketing, financial and legal services, and so on.

Q. Who are you hoping to attract to MakerspaceCT? What is your business model?

A. MakerspaceCT will attract entrepreneurs, innovators, students, hobbyists, artists and manufacturers, all those with curiosity to learn a skill like welding, woodworking, 3D printing, computer programming and many more.

The people who will benefit from our programs cut across all demographic and geographic lines. They include people who are unemployed, underemployed, underserved, retired — anyone with an idea and the determination to make it happen.

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community resource. Our business model includes membership sales, much like a gym. We offer classes, workshops, meeting space, as well as collaborations with higher-education institutions and corporations, which have already been very supportive. Programs are funded by grants, donations and sponsorships from foundations and corporations.

Q. Why have the space in downtown Hartford?

A. There's no better place. Downtown Hartford puts us in a centralized location in Connecticut, easily accessible for our members, enabling us to serve as a resource for all of Connecticut's makerspaces.

Our location also allows us to support and participate in the Hartford maker-ecosystem. We will be a resource for accelerators like the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator and Hartford InsurTech Hub, and area colleges and universities. Mayor Luke Bronin, and Jamie Bratt, when she led the city's economic development, were real champions, paving the way. Hartford is increasingly taking a lead role in Industry 4.0, and MakerspaceCT is an important aspect of that.

Q. You mentioned you are going to have collaborations with area colleges. Can you give us an example of one or two and what they entail?

A. We will offer a range of opportunities for collaborations, and we're excited about the prospects of providing students with hands-on experience. We have established a working relationship with the University of Hartford — their school of architecture and entrepreneurial center. They'll include activities at MakerspaceCT as part of their curriculum. We are also working with Capital Community College, which is located in our building, and we're in the midst of discussions to formalize collaborations with three other major universities.

Q. How much investment was put into the facility and program? What were the funding sources?

A. To date, over $3 million in private donations from foundation and corporate sources have provided funding for the development, construction and equipment acquisition needed to launch MakerspaceCT. We're very appreciative of that support. And we have already launched a major education initiative funded by CTNext/Innovation Places.

Q. How should we measure the success of MakerspaceCT in a year from now? How about five years?

A. Our success will be determined by our ability to achieve our mission and vision. Our mission is to positively impact lives by enabling access, innovation and education; our vision is to use making as a vehicle to lift up individuals and communities.

In five years, we will have a well-established community of makers whose lives have been changed for the better by the access to tools and training that we provide.

For example, benchmarks of success can be measured by the number of entrepreneurs who were able to start a business or develop a prototype because of the resources provided by MakerspaceCT, or the workers who got a better job because of skills they learned here. And our success will be determined by the number and effectiveness of the collaborations we establish with area corporations and institutions.

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