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The Organisation That Gives Startups A Head Start


Inside the Fablab in Odense. People are working at computers, machinery lines the walls. In the foreground, a man holds up a stencil to the light.

writer icon Anton Georgiev     Fablab Innovation   |   Tech     🕐 12. Sep. 2018


Imagine a global and collaborative network, a place to inspire people, and give them the power to design and create.

This was the idea behind FabLab when it was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a collaboration between the Grassroots Invention Group and the Center for Bits and Atoms. With as many as 1205 labs on six continents by the end of December 2017, FabLab is giving the opportunity to design and create to people from all over the world.

Inside a FabLab
One such FabLab is located in Odense, housed on the campus of Lillebaelt Academy University of Applied Sciences. When it was first introduced six and a half years ago it was unique in Denmark, being the first connected to a school.

Funded in the beginning by the government, the FabLab today is a part of its school budget. Unique at first, now, with the new popularity of the DIY and maker culture, it’s just another place where you can create. Currently, there are 10-12 FabLabs in Denmark, connected to the MIT University.

"We are here for the students, mostly"
, said Michael Angelo Johansen, the current manager of the EAL FabLab. The Lillebaelt students can use the FabLab and for their school projects and get help with designing and editing via workshops and classes.

This does not mean local businesses and start-up companies cannot use it. Every Wednesday, non-students can come and use the Lab for free, paying only for the materials they use. While it is used for prototypes, the Labs are not available for mass production.

One way this Lab brings students and companies together is encouraging work between the two. When a company is approaching with their ideas about the prototype, it is highly encouraged that they go through the process with one of the students. This way the company gets help from someone who has knowledge about the lab and equipment. Similarity, the student gain work experience of being involved in an actual project. This can potentially lead to an internship with the company and, potentially, a paid position.

The idea behind FabLab
A FabLab is essentially a small workshop, which offers personal digital fabrication. There are a number of different things for which the FabLabs are used, from prototypes for startups companies to school projects.

Through all its uses, the idea is for the lab to empower individuals to create devices that are adapted to their specific needs. These ideas are brought to life using the equipment in the FabLabs, such as laser cutters, sign cutters and a high-resolution NC milling machine.

FabLab was initially developed as a prototyping platform for local businesses and startups. Today, the workshops are adopted by schools as platforms for project-based and hands-on education.

Benefitting from the experience of making something for themselves, the users help and learn from each other, gaining knowledge about the machines, materials and different processes that go into invention and innovation. This adds another layer to their experience and, in the case of students, it broadens their knowledge outside of the fixed school curriculum.

For a private company, being able to make a working prototype helps to broaden the understanding of its own product and gives the chance to identify and fix mistakes on a still conceptual level. 

Criticism
A FabLab in Grenoble, France, was vandalised and burned by anarchists on 21st November 2017. The lab was described as "a notoriously harmful institution by its diffusion of digital culture" by an anonymous claim published on the website Indymedia Grenoble.


It has been suggested that there is a fear from the innovating aspect, and that “city managers satisfy money-hungry start-ups and geeky geeks by opening FabLabs in trendy neighbourhoods. These seemingly extremely heterogeneous devices all aim to accelerate the acceptance and social use of the technologies of our disastrous time”

Supported projects
There are different projects being supported by the FabLab initiative. Among them are the Fab Academy and Fab City.

The Fab Academy is an educational model. Within the Fab Academy, the students learn how to envision, prototype and document their ideas using hands-on experience. The five-month part-time course enables the students to earn a diploma and build up their portfolio. In some cases, the diploma is accredited or gives academic credit. 

Fab City is set up in order to explore new and innovative ways of creating the world of the future. The project looks to scale the potential of digital fabrication to design and create the technologies that will shape the relationship between consumption and production in the future cities. It is a community of civic leaders, urbanists and innovators.

Fab City calls to action people with the certainty that things need to be different locally in order for the change to appear on a planetary scale. In each Fab City, the citizens are given the power to be the masters of their future, by offering them new knowledge, skills and ways to collaborate.

With access to open source designs, the people become responsible for the fabrication and design of the products to suit their needs. With this comes the sense of ownership, identity and belonging and thus the citizens are more willing to reinvest in the social and cultural life of their city.



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