Fab business

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This is a collection of relatively raw data / information; mainly built in 2010/2011 and resulting in this presentation to Fab7 in Lima, Peru.

Most recent version of questionnaire

  • Outcomes
    • Entrepreneurial outcomes – ideas sprung out of the lab along with their impact
    • Commercial applications – projects that have been tackled in labs by commercial & professional lab users.
    • Student outcomes – Information on students served – grade, schools served, source of curriculum used, success measurement, impact on students once they have left.
    • Academic outcomes – in what research projects have the labs participated with what result?
    • Community outcomes – what interaction with and impact on the community has the lab had?
    • Diaspora – what have folks that left the lab gone on to do?
    • User counts, by type of user, for the most recent 12-month period
    • What population area and size does the lab serve?
  • Pitches
    • Proposals used to successfully attract funding
    • Anecdotes / narratives that reveal key ingredients to securing funding
    • Institutions who have provided funding
  • Operations (for the most recent year)
    • Expense budget
    • Breakdown of amounts - revenue and funding sources
    • Lab staffing mechanisms - Count and portion of time for all types of staff – paid, unpaid, bartered

Summary of interview with Derek Elley - Co-Founder of Ponoko.com (Eddie Kirkby, 10 Jun 2011)

Ponoko was launched in 2007 and was based on building a software system that could support distributed manufacture. It became profitable within 12-15 months and now works with around 13 fabricators across the world. The system is based on very tightly controlled remote customer customisation or design of products. These controls are designed to deliberately reduce the requirement for human interaction with the user, ensuring that the resources required to maintain the business are kept at a profitable level.

Therefore Ponoko's target market are people who must be able and comfortable to use the internet and have more than likely tried to make stuff before. Derek quite strongly insisted on not needing any human intervention in the process except operating the machines. For Ponoko, he was not able to find a way to become sustainable that would involve human interaction (like supporting designers, helping them to refine products, find materials, etc.)

Use of materials is also tightly constrained and available materials are different from fabricator to fabricator.

Currently fabricators are engaged on a manual 1-2-1 basis and this is managed through a light CRM system which allows the fabricator to manage their projects for customers online. Fabricators select the materials they wish to make available and also calibrate their pricing based on pricing calculations derived by the system.

Fabricators are responsible for marketing their Ponoko services and musn't rely on business being generated by Ponoko.com

Ponoko as platform generates their income (partly?) from setup fees and monthly fees paid by the fabricators (their job to recoup them through jobs).

The main criteria for fabricators are

  • The right equipment (currently laser cutter, 3D printer, or CNC Router)
  • Marketing capability
  • Ability to pay - credit-worthiness
  • Availability of start up investment

Ponoko are very interested in engaging with Fab Labs as fabricators but this would require initial investment to develop the system in order to enable this to happen. Therefore the Fab Business team will explore with Ponoko ways in which this might be developed into pilot activity.

History of FabLab Amersfoort (17 May 2011, 9 Aug 2012)

Fablab Amersfoort: Grass-roots Fab Lab, see also http://fablabamersfoort.nl/downloads/fablab-instructable.pdf

Presentation: https://vimeo.com/channels/fabfuse/48702977 (held at Fabfuse 2012)

Barcelona (6 Apr 2011, John Boeck)

Notes of discussion with Tomas on April 5, 2011 LAB: Barcelona

HISTORY OF EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE LAB LAUNCH -- Idea began in 2001 as a Media House project within IAAC , with 15 students. 2005 - Bought milling machine 2006 - Installed 3-D printer & laser cutter, Tomas arrived as an intern Tomas volunteered to help launch a lab with dedicated space & budget by April 2007 Originally funded by the city government, now by IAAC, a private educational institute. IAAC founded in 2000, and is currently a for-profit school. Official launch – May 2007

FUNDING & REVENUE – Currently funded by the IAAC, which offers a masters in architecture for foreign students. Material + time for lab expert + 60-200 euros to use 3-D printing Approximately 150,000e-200,000e in IAAC revenue is attributable to the FabLab, but is not received by the Lab. Masters fees:Currently (2010) generate 12K euro Fab Lab Pro, Students 2,500e Hourly Rates for users… Students 3 e per ½ hour Academy Students free Alumni 30 e per hour Normal 60 e per hour Revenue is 50-500 e per week

EXPENSES -- Annual operating costs: $9,000 e per month (rent-free). $1,000 in infrastructure, mostly replacement parts.

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING -- Biz dev is very informal. Tomas manages the lab, but also does many things. Distributed work for biz dev and other tasks The Fab Lab and Lab leadership is very involved in the city, talks, IAAC, and with “rock star” architects

USER PROFILE & USAGE PATTERNS – Clients are mostly architecture and design offices, students Professional architects who use the lab use it to produce models. Product designers and graphic designers – most used machine is the laser cutter, 2nd is 3-D printer. Machine used by: Students, Pros, Projects and for staff to address breakdowns & calibration For example: Last week: 60 people in the lab. Museum, average 20 user per week + school workshops.

STAFFING NOTES – 2 people graduated from Fab Academy – and are currently doing pro bono work in the Lab as part of the agreement. 2 children coming in every Friday, training to be tutors of other children. Fab Lab Pro – one intern manages time for those clients. Several workshops – another university used it and those folks got the 50% off Fab Pro fees. 2 interns 2 Fab Academy Scholarship folks help. At the Museum – “residents” – use lab hours as credits.

ADMINISTRATIVE – Online appointment system for local students, along with choosing assistance. Can only reserve 1 hour per week. Fab Academy students are often in the lab, helping other, no appts needed. They use for themselves ad hoc.

NOTEWORTHY PROJECTS – New lab - Green Fab Lab just outside Barcelona (Funded by the Ministry of Industry and Tourism) 2nd fab lab in Design Museum of Barcelona (exhibition). ( Funded by the Ministry of Industry & Tourism.) Helping to start new Fab Labs: projects with Lyon, Cordoba


NOTEWORTHY PROJECT (PERU & ETHIOPIA) -- Hired to install labs in the 2 locations. Revenue 25,000e for initial setup, support & travel (not including gear). Funded by the Spanish Agency for Int’l Cooperation & Development : AECID Project outline: Tomas traveled to local site, ran a workshop and selected students to come. Students had to come to Fab Academy on a Spanish agency scholarship – full tuition Fab Academy Sep 2008 – 9 months In the process of signing technical support agreement – 2 year agreement to setup and support lab

NOTEWORTHY PROJECT (Fab Lab House) -- Investment from companies & city hall, Schneider Electric, etc. Studying commercializing Fab Lab House. Next step is to develop in China. Model house in China being exhibited. Advantages: Attract more students, very little expense, increases visibility and P/R.

NOTES ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN THE LAB – The lab is experience-centric, and experts leave and become Fab experts in another university or location. That experience could be packaged, distributed and generate revenue.

CHALLENGES -- Revenue goes to IAAC, expenses go to Fab Lab ! Tomas’ schedule is challenging – start at 10-11, finish 10-12 at night. Most time spent solving other people problems. Can begin own work late in the day. Tomas has been challenged to come up with a plan to generate 200K e in one year Most people keeping the Lab operational are not being paid to work there. Currently operating on Tomas and volunteers (interns & Academy).

FUTURE – Based on expectations for the outcome of elections, more investment from the public sector is expected.

Fab Lab Vestmannaeyjar (1 Feb 2011, John Boeck)


HISTORY OF EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE LAB LAUNCH Frosti & 2 partners saw lecture on TED – called Neil Went to boot camp in Norway Began raising funds for the lab Around the same time, govt. lowered the catch quotas for cod, placing jobs in jeopardy and triggering govt programs to generate innovation and jobs. Govt provided funding – thru the “Innovation Center of Iceland / Entrepreneurship Dept.”, within the Ministry of Industry Opened in Sept. 2008

STRUCTURE OF INITIAL FUNDING Two-year grant by the Ministry of Industry’s ““Innovation Center of Iceland” Mission (self-defined): raise technical knowledge of general public Requirements (not strict) by funders : provide prototyping for industry for cost of materials The lab is treating school classes the same way, providing classes for the cost of materials One year of costs to operate the lab is currently 75,887 euros / year

SCOPE OF THIS INITIAL FUNDING Buy equipment, operate the lab

ADDITIONAL FUNDING BEYOND THE INITIAL ROUIND 2nd round of funding to have a second setup for Smarmi – to support teaching schools

USAGE PATTERNS Mon – FabAcademy - all day Tue – Secondary school – 4 hrs Wed – FabAcademy – all day Thu – High school – 4 hrs Fri – working session for FabAcam & high school Boot camps every 3 months Open access all the time (5 days a week) 200-300 visits per week, including Excluding students, 8-10 per day (innovators & public, mostly users) Innovators come in around the others schedule – especially mornings.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP ACTIVITIES Notable recent product - “Map of Iceland coat hanger” Many artists like to use the facility Expecting to see coming out of Fab Academy - First one ? - Improved Assemble line sensors - Electricity load balancers & usage sensors – smart grid

Participating in making energy policy for the town the lab as electricity is currently cheap in Iceland, but costs are rising.

WHAT DO THE LAB LEADERS SPEND THEIR TIME ON Frosti Most of his time is teaching Would like to spend more time on learning machine & programming FabAcademy was an essential experience Maintaining and prepping computers & machines Energy projects

CURRICULUM USED IN CLASSES Frosti wrote it Teachers of children taking classes are encouraged to do a “boot camp” so they can help design and operate lessons

BIGGEST CHALLENGES Getting money from govt – convincing them of the long –term benefits of the lab Funders are short-sighted how many jobs have been created ? how many products have been launched ?

FUTURE & OPPORTUNITIES Frosti Believes the future of the lab is in the electronics Sees opportunities in : Wearable electronics SmartGrid / electricity Need to lower the entrance cost for electronics – Ardwino Entrepreneurs do not have time to program electronics themselves – need service FabLab geared more towards entrepreneurs and less so the big companies Entrepreneurs don’t have the time or want to do the full product dev / prototyping – would be happy to outsource to Fab Lab for help Entrepreneur is often NOT the inventor

FUTURE FUNDING THOUGHTS Other funders- Received grants for individual product development - most of the funds go to the companies. Intend to reach out to the EU for grants – the EU/ educational projects FabAcademy, Boot Camp, Secondary and High school – Do not charge tuition Education is Iceland is free – so charging for Fab does not fit the social structure. FabAcademy students taken from the public. Not many 20-30 year olds on the island. Most leave to pursue education and career opportunities elsewhere. Many of the students are returning from overseas, after university

FUNDING RISKS How would he fund it if govt grant lost ? Isolated island with only 4,000 people

. OTHER THOUGHTS Business skills vs. innovation skills ? Innovation Center has courses on biz skills – “biz plan”, “starting a company”

Solo inventors ? Yes – arts & crafts people. They use it for cutting, etc. – production facility

FUNDING SOUGHT / LANDED BY OTHER LABS IN ICELAND Getting funding from the municipality and local companies Northern Iceland – 25%-50% from the Innovation Center, municipality, and local companies.

Eddie –need software to test the product Finite element analysis Stress testing

Only commercial software – PathWorks. All others Open Source. Loves InkScape

Health, Safety & compliance issues:


1 Feb 2011 (John)

18 Jan 2011 (trox)

  • explained additional material
  • agreed on procedure as follows
    • use John's (improved) list of questions for the first interview
    • use Business Model Canvas for analysis
    • fill in gaps in second interview
  • next steps
    • John to refine his set of questions (until end of the week, to everyone)
    • everyone to comment on refined list (until Mon Jan 24)
  • next meeting: Fab 1, 1400 UK time (1500 CET, 0800 Eastern)
    • use Frosti as quinea pig to be interviewed (as a dry run of the questionnaire)

11 Jan 2011 (trox)

5 Jan 2011 (Sherry)

We just had a short Fab Biz meeting online with me, Troxler and Boeck. As noted below, in my fevered fog, I forgot to send out advance notice so attendance was less than usual. We discussed the need to generate case studies in fab lab sustainability for the community, to help guide both established labs and labs coming into being.

We've identitfied four labs that we think we can start with:

  • Manchester (business prototyping),
  • Lyngen Norway (community lab),
  • Barcelona (educational institution), and
  • Amersfoort (new approach to building a sustainable fab lab).

Our next meeting will be next Tuesday at 8:00AM US East Coast time, if we can do this via Polycom/video conference, that would be terrific. But we can also skype in the folks who can't make the videoconfernece. We would greatly like the participation of Kenya (Kamua) and India (Dhananjay) if at all possible, as their experiences can inform our process greatly.

Online Community

Ideas for revenue

Thoughts on how to make Fab Labs more sustainable.

Ideas that can make revenue for Fab Labs

  • Knowledge
    • Solve problems
    • Education programs
  • Fabrication
  • Designs
  • Global meeting point


One idea is to organize events or place where the labs can present their ideas. People could join in to the Fab Lab network around the world. Each lab could present few ideas at each time. (2-3)

The purpose of the presentation could be

  • a) to share knowledge
  • b) to seek for knowledge
  • c) to present the idea for possible partners (e.g. technical partners or business partners)

Different meetings could be held around different topics. Each idea should come with some basic information.

Every inventor should write this about his/hers idea:

  • Idea number.
  • Name of idea:
  • Inventors name:
  • Description
  • Collaboration details
  • Type of partner sought
  • Sectors / Categories

These could be events where inventors and possible investors could be led together

Physical Presence

Before trying to start TheUltimateFabLabDirectory I'd rather provide a few links to where such information is already collected:

Further Reading

A list of near-random readings from the web on Fab Lab business model