Video produced by Knoxville Weekend
Featuring Sue Joslin, Sean Simoneau, and Tracy Homer of Knox Makers
A Conversation with Doug Laney, President of Knox Makers
How long have you been in the Knoxville Maker Community?
I got involved with Knox Makers in early 2011, which is a few months after it got started. The term "makerspace" was still relatively new back then, but even at that time the idea of having a shared workspace where people could combine resources to have access to a much better workspace than they could afford individually seemed amazing. Of course back then, there wasn't a space, and Knox Makers was still called "The Knoxville Makers Guild". We've been building a community around the vision of a shared space for years now, and our hard work is really paying off. We've got one of the largest and most active makerspaces in the southeast.
Knox Makers is designed to be accessible and affordable. We do everything we can to keep costs low. Since our members are either people who are making things for their hobbies, or just in the prototype phase, people don't get to any sort of heavy tool use. We do however tell people that once your prototyping phase is done and you're ready for commercial production that you need to go somewhere else. The really affordable $50 per month rate doesn't cover the use of someone trying to make production runs of dozens of parts. The trouble as I see it is that after you leave Knox Makers that next step is huge. You go from a very affordable $50 per month to needing to rent your own space, and buy your own tools, learn all about insurance requirements, and paying taxes, etc. All of that can be overwhelming, and take tens of thousands of dollars to get started. That's a huge barrier to entry for people who have great ideas. What Knoxville needs is a stepping stone. A place between the prototype phase and the full production phase. A place that can accommodate production runs, but still be more affordable than having to come up with huge amounts of capital. A place for budding maker businesses. That's not something that would be in competition with Knox Makers, but something that complements it completely.
What was the big push to open your first makerspace at Knox Makers?
It was always the dream of affordable access to great equipment that I could never justify as an individual. We've always sort of described Knox Makers as a gym membership for makers. If you think about your local gym, they rent a space and fill it with a huge variety of exercise equipment that you'd like to use for only a few minutes a week. You could never justify buying all of those machines to put at your house. You'd never use them enough to make it worthwhile, and even if you could afford it, where would you put them all? Knox Makers was always intended to be that, but for making stuff. It was always in the plan to have the wood shop, and the metal shop, and all the high tech stuff like 3D printers and laser cutters. We always felt like having affordable access to that kind of equipment would be empowering for the whole community. People could pursue their creative dreams without needing to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment. That's where it started for us, and that's still the motivation that drives us. We are continuing to grow the capabilities of our workshop, and are constantly trying to find people to teach more introductory classes to get people started on their journey to becoming a maker.
How would you like to impact the Maker Community in the next 5 years?
I really want to see Knoxville become the top destination nationwide for maker businesses.
I want people to see Knoxville at the center of a maker movement the way that Silicon Valley is looked at to be the center of the software world.
I hope by working with the Mayor's Maker Council that we can develop Knoxville into a best-in-the-nation maker community.
I would like to continue to find ways to build communities of makers that will benefit everyone in the community.
I'm hoping that my continued involvement in Knox Makers will help encourage people to start their journey to becoming a maker.
I hope that the partnerships that we work to develop at Knox Makers help us to inspire the next generation of makers as well.