'Maker Movement' enabling more women to launch tech businesses?

Now becoming an event so popular in San Francisco that it demands admittance by lottery, previous hosts have included Google, Yahoo and Facebook.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor
Laura deLeon from Type A Machines explains how 3D desktop printing works. Photo: Rachel King, ZDNet.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Arguably the popularity of e-commerce and social brands such as Etsy and Pinterest have incited a new do-it-yourself (DIY) movement. But it also appears that businesses like these are giving way to a new trend in the tech startup community, now referred to in some circles as "the Maker Movement."

Co-sponsored by software giant Autodesk and DIY online hub Instructables, Wednesday night's TechShop Girl Geek Dinner was set to up demonstrate how the Maker Movement is propelling women in tech to learn new skills, and perhaps eventually, to launch new businesses.


Brit Morin, CEO of the DIY and e-commerce site Brit + Co., posited during the keynote session that the Maker Movement has taken on a number of different meanings and participants.

On the one side, she pointed toward 3D printing and laser cutting specialists. On the other, she highlighted the aforementioned crowd of Etsy lovers, crafting enthusiasts, and even the local food movement.

"Makers are all types of people," said Morin. "We are all creative. Technology is enabling creativity more than ever."

Morin, who has been dubbed time and again in the tech press as the "Martha Stewart of Silicon Valley," noted that she got her start at TechShop in San Francisco's SOMA district. Now 18 months old, Brit + Co. has 18 employees and has gone through Series A venture capital funding.

Laura deLeon, who works at TechShop on a daily basis with 3D desktop printer specialist Type A Machines, suggested that the Maker Movement also doesn't necessarily demand an extensive background in programming and engineering. Rather, it could welcome anyone with ideas, ambition, and a willingness to learn.

"Makers are all types of people," said Morin. "We are all creative. Technology is enabling creativity more than ever."

Supporting the prominent themes of 3D printing and design on display at Wednesday's event, Autodesk reps were demonstrating the company's 123D free 3D modeling software, touting how it bridges the gap between entrepreneurs and creative professionals.

LeeAnn Manon, a senior product marketing manager at Autodesk, said that this particular suite is aimed at consumers and budding entrepreneurs alike -- notably those without education, licensing, or even a lot of time to spare.

Manon explained that most of the designs start with templates, basic shapes, and shared ideas from the online community set up by Autodesk and tied to the software.

She admitted the goal of the software suite is more to support and foster creativity, but Manon responded that it could be applied to business as well, quipping that some users have "hacked the gap" to create what they want.

Results have ranged from mobile gaming apps to a photography app that takes pictures of the inner ear for custom-fit headphones.


DeLeon remarked that she has a general interest in the nuts and bolts of the advanced technology, but more so she is focused on her own ideas -- and the outcome.

A jewelry designer since 2008, deLeon described how she has been able to experiment with 3D programming and printing, stressing this is "absolutely" where she wants to be as a designer.

Admitting that she doesn't "need to know everything" about the technology side, deLeon continued that TechShop (and perhaps the Maker Movement in general) have provided an environment where she can connect with people who can help her to that outcome.

Really, all of these lessons and the ethos behind the Maker Movement could be applied to anyone regardless of gender, age, or possibly education backgrounds.

Contrary to some preconceived notions, deLeon even replied that she thinks there are already "a lot of women in the industry."

However, she lamented that there are many "without a voice" for a variety of reasons, including being involved with other careers or just plain shyness.

Based on the packed room at the TechShop studio on Wednesday night, creative events and spaces like these could be bridging those gaps.

The Girl Geek Dinner series originally launched in the United Kingdom, and it has become an event so popular in San Francisco that it demands admittance by lottery. Previous hosts of the event have included Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.

Screenshot via Brit + Co.

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