Never underestimate the sparks that can fly when a small and dedicated group of Makers set their minds to something. Such is the story of the rapidly growing Maker community in France. It all started with one French maker’s trip to World Maker Faire New York in 2011. Bertier Luyt recalls, “The special atmosphere, the kindness of the crowd, the level of conversation, the optimistic point of view on the future: all this struck me on my first visit to Maker Faire. I wanted to share this incredible feeling.”
In 2012, he founded le FabShop in his northwestern France, coastal town of Saint-Malo, and he and a handful of his colleagues set out to organize the first Maker Faire in France: Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire. Featuring 40 makers, the Faire was well received, so much so that Bertier says, “All the smiles we received in Saint-Malo, from the crowd and the makers, gave us the confidence to think about producing the event in Paris.”
In 2013, they did just that, and the first Maker Faire Paris was a huge success, drawing 7,500 attendees. This year, the organizing crew not only put together the second Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire on April 11 and 12, which ramped up to showcasing 110 makers, but they’re gearing up for the second annual Maker Faire Paris, taking place this weekend on May 2 and 3 at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles. Bertier must know how to hack time because amid all the hustle, he was able to take a moment to give us a window into the state of the French Maker Movement.
1. Of your first trip to World Maker Faire New York 2011, you said, “I felt I belonged to this crowd and that anything I wanted to do could be done.” How does it feel to have inspired others to feel the way you did?
It’s been an incredible journey since then. When I created leFabShop, part of the plan was to bring Maker Faire to France. What I’m the proudest of is to have been able to gather around leFabShop’s idea an incredible team of talents who understood the vision and embraced it with me. At leFabShop, the Maker Faire team is three full-time employees including Jean-Baptiste [Clec’h]. It’s only been just over 18 months that we’ve been promoting the Maker Movement in France. It’s still very fresh to the French people, and because of the translation of the word “Maker,” it’s still not obvious.
We feel very lucky to have the privilege to bring other people into the Maker Movement. It’s always a magic moment when you first talk to someone who had not yet thought about it and have him realize he’s a Maker too. Another great moment is when people join us at a meet-up or event, meet other Makers, and immediately find a new community where kindness, curiosity, and empathy are basic principles.
2. Tell us about the first Maker Faire Paris that took place last year: how many makers were there and how many attendees?
In June 2014, we organized the first Maker Faire Paris in a beautiful place called Le CentQuatre. It was a big challenge because we really had no idea how it’d be received for a new event in Paris. It was a wonderful weekend, June 21 and 22, the weather was great, it was the Soccer World Cup, and June 21 is Music Day in France, but we gathered about 7,500 attendees. Our survey indicates that 96% of the attendees recommend the event to their family and friends. It was great.
We had 120 tables with about 140 different projects and 329 makers involved, from open source drawing with Copyleft Art License to a massive industrial robot turned into a giant 3D printer named Drawn. There were a lot of presentations on the SketchUp Heroes Stage, from Green Cross presenting their actions to raise awareness on climate change, and Cute Circuits catwalking their connected fashion.
3. What were some memorable moments from the first Maker Faire Paris?
So much happened at the first Maker Faire Paris, it always feels too short! It was great to have so many friends meeting with us that weekend: Joey Hudy, Schuyler St. Leger, Miguel aka Pancakebot, Mondo Pasta from Maker Faire Rome, and many other friends, including the usual Maker Faire partners Autodesk, Trimble, Intel, and Mathworks, who all supported Maker Faire Paris in a heartbeat. One of the epic moments of Maker Faire Paris 2014 was when I was called on the radio for a VIP emergency: Philippe Starck was walking into the Faire without a ticket. Then we were honored to welcome Ms. Fleur Pellerin, the French Minister of Culture, for a private visit with her family. Overall it was a great moment for the community, and that’s what is memorable.
4. How was the Faire received? Tell us about some of the feedback you got from the community.
Maker Faire Paris 2014 was very well received by the community. It was a unique place for different communities to come together. France, like other places, is a country with communities that don’t get the chance to stand together. At Maker Faire Paris we brought Fab Labs, industrials, startups, schools, non-profits, and individuals together. The overall feeling was a feeling of community. I felt a lot of walls collapsed on that weekend. Makers were really happy, but even more important, the attendees were blasted. People who didn’t know what to expect walked out smiling and happy with their discoveries.
5. How has the maker scene in France been affected by the Saint-Malo and Paris Faires?
Hard to tell because we only see what’s in front of us, but we see a lot of interest from local communities to jump on the wagon and join in the Maker Movement and organize Mini Maker Faires. We also saw the number of applications to Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire 2015 and Maker Faire Paris 2015 jump up! We even caught the attention of Leroy Merlin, France’s number one hardware distribution company, who participated in Maker Faire Paris 2014 and now they’re involved as Presenting Sponsor for Maker Faire Paris 2015.
Finally, it was in Paris that Foire de Paris, the oldest fair in France, came to meet with us and invited Maker Faire Paris to be part of their 2015 edition. Foire de Paris has taken place since 1904. It draws over 3500 exhibitors over 12 days, with almost a million visitors. We’re very lucky to be part of it this year. This will give the Maker Movement and Maker Faire a boost we couldn’t have achieved as fast without them.
One of the notable effects of our efforts is that we can see how much everyone, not only the press, is curious about the Maker Movement. Axelle Lemaire, the French Minister of State responsible for Digital Affairs, told France’s biggest newspaper Le Monde that there should be a Maker Faire at the President’s. Google for Entrepreneurs’ Start Up Weekend this year is themed Maker Edition. Companies and industries want to understand the Maker Movement.
6. How many hackerspaces are in Paris? Will they be involved in the Faire?
There are a lot of labs in Paris and the surrounding area. You can see them all on this Makery Labs Map. There are even more private labs inspired by the Maker Movement in the top 40 companies. Many labs will participate in Maker Faire Paris 2015. One of the most famous is a bio-hack lab called La Paillasse, but there will be others not only from Paris. One of France’s biggest labs, Electrolab Hackerspace, will be there.
Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire 2015 saw a gathering of all the Fab Labs from Brittany, something they’ve never had the chance to do before on that scale. They were very happy to stand together, and thanks to our partner Bretagne Developement Innovation, they will all be there this weekend for Maker Faire Paris.
7. What can we expect at this year’s Maker Faire Paris? How has it grown from the first year? What are three notable exhibits?
The venue is twice as big as last year. We have 739 makers registered, over 220 projects listed, and an impressive list of talks. Our friends, Bionico and Inmoov will be there, of course. We’re very happy to bring for the first time Kolja’s One Love Machine Band to France [pictured below]. One of my favorite project is the Théâtre d’Ombres Mécaniques (Mechanical Shadow Theater). The team behind it is a non-profit helping people in need to find employment. Finally we’re very happy we met with Baptiste, aka ExperimentBoy — he shows incredible and fun science tricks, sometimes with explosions! Seriously, I could go on. The full list of Makers is online.
8. Congrats on the second annual Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire! You skipped 2014 to focus efforts on Paris, correct? You went from 40 makers in 2013 to 110 in 2015 — what has happened in the Saint-Malo maker community over the past two years to allow the Faire this year to be so much bigger?
When we planned the first Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire, nobody but my team really knew or understood what we were talking about. Local authorities, being very conservative, offered us to be part of the Science Week in France and that the show should be hosted on the campus of our local technology college. It was great, but we had little choice on the dates since Science Week is in October.
In 2014, we worked on producing Maker Faire Paris. For Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire 2015, we chose to organize it on the first weekend of Easter break. That allowed classes to work on producing content for the Faire starting in September 2014 to be ready in April. It has proven to be a good choice, and I can tell you now that Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire 2016 will be April 2 and 3! The groundwork of the leFabShop production team and the success of Maker Faire Paris 2014, laid down the foundation for the success of the Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire. Furthermore, we now have a few more Mini Maker Faires in the pipeline, in all quadrants of France and as far as Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. France is a small coutry but a large territory. Now there are several projects of Fab Labs burgeoning in Saint-Malo, and we can expect more Maker activities in our bay in the coming months to prepare for the next Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire.
9. There are 250 miles between the two Faires. Are there many makers and attendees that go to both?
I don’t know about attendees. I hope they can make it, but Makers and Travelers who participated in the Saint-Malo Mini Maker Faire will be in Paris this weekend to celebrate the Maker Movement with us again. May 2 is Brittany Day in Paris at Foire de Paris, so we have a lot of Britton Makers to share this weekend with.
10. What do you predict will be the future of the Maker Movement in France?
I wish I could tell the future, but France is a great Maker country. France has centuries of crafts and arts traditions and excellence. France has the best design school in the world, l’Ensci-Les Ateliers, as well as the amazing engineering school Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers. Also, Paris is the world capital for fashion. As Sherry Huss nicely put it last year, the main quality of French Maker projects she saw last year is in form over function. We’re a people of poetry, romanticiscm, and history. All this might also be the biggest challenge for the Maker Movement, to overcome tradition and convince institutions who may look at the Maker Movement with disdain. But French people are good at revolutions, and as you know, the third one has started. Watch out: Makers are gonna put the house upside down!