When FuzeHub was first introduced to Etsy in the spring of 2014, I was excited about the possibility of connecting New York’s small manufacturers with a vast, untapped market of Makers in need of manufacturing services. FuzeHub, New York’s new B2B platform and one of ten NIST-selected B2B platforms, connects New York State manufacturers to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership services and other resources to support business growth in New York State.
For those of you not familiar with the Etsy site, it is best described as a peer-to-peer e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies, and, since October of 2013, unique factory-manufactured items. Although Etsy is only one of several large e-commerce platforms designed for Makers, the site may be the largest. Etsy is headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., and connects approximately 1.4-million sellers with 19.8-million buyers.
In 2014, the Obama Administration announced the pilot partnership between Etsy and FuzeHub at the first-ever White House Maker Faire. In the now-completed pilot program, Etsy and FuzeHub sought to identify the “pain points” of Makers who wish to work with manufacturers, and the challenges that manufacturers face when working with the Makers.
FuzeHub worked with seven Etsy Sellers (Makers), including a custom-tailored denim apparel shop, a screen printer and cement planter maker, a provider of aroma-therapeutic products, and a fashion and fun accessory shop. The Etsy Seller pilot group also included makers of botanical home care products, vintage-style designer apparel for women, and specialty handbags made of linen, fabric, and leather. Through this project, FuzeHub helped the sellers define their manufacturing needs and, as a result of this work, provided recommendations for building effective connections between these Sellers and manufacturers.
A number of observations resulting from this pilot program may have implications for MEP Centers and manufacturing companies planning to engage and work with the larger Makers community. Among the Etsy Sellers participating in the pilot, significant variability was noted in level of manufacturing knowledge, range of experience, and general readiness to scale-up production. Makers need help with regulatory compliance and intellectual property protections such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents. They are interested in sourcing green materials and learning more about environmentally friendly best practices and makers need to engage manufacturers who can perform small batch runs, which could be made economically viable by joining with other Makers.
Educating Makers about manufacturing and recommending resources requires more than just technical and business skills. For manufacturers, engaging Makers is more than a matter of production run-size and capability-- Makers are small and the projects can be time-intensive, manufacturers need to have organizational values that support such relationships.
Etsy represents just part of the larger Maker Movement which includes inventors, designers, and artisans who create small batches of products in garages, workshops, and home offices. According to Atmel, an American-based manufacturer and major backer of the Maker Movement, 135 million U.S. adults are Makers; USA Today reports that Makers fuel business, pouring some $29 billion into the world economy each year. New York City hosts one of the world’s eight flagship Maker Faires. These events occur at locations all over the world and draw approximately 280,000 attendees annually.
As the Maker Movement grows, maximizing its economic development potential presents great possibilities. Not surprisingly, the market for 3D printing and Maker-related services is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $6 billion by 2017. However, working with Makers and boosting small batches into production-run quantities requires resources and presents unexpected challenges that must be taken into consideration.