The maker force is strong in the Rocky Mountain state! The Maker Movement gleans strength from the passion of maker communities around the world, and the fine state of Colorado shines bright as an example of what’s possible when makers work together to create a brighter future. Home to more makerspaces than you can shake a stick at, Colorado is impressive for more than just the sheer number of makerspaces — it’s their dedication to collaborating with one another in the interest of spreading the joy of making far and wide that deserves a standing ovation. And the fulcrum of this makerspace collective is Colorado Maker Hub, an “educational nonprofit with a mission to foster maker innovation and to create a thriving, sustainable future by advancing and connecting Colorado makers — a vibrant community of tinkerers, tech enthusiasts, artists, educators, youth makers, hobbyists, science clubs, students, and entrepreneurs.”

Colorado Maker Hub has produced the NoCo and Denver Mini Maker Faires since 2013, and this year, they qualified to produce the full-scale featured Maker Faire Denver, taking place October 14 and 15. This year’s Faire is 200% bigger than the previous Minis, featuring 136 makers, including a whopping 15 makerspaces. Last year, there were 83 makers featured between the two Minis, which drew a combined total of about 4,500. This year’s “Festival for the Curious” is guaranteed to top the charts. They have makers coming in from 23 states, including both coasts and one coming from London, to fill 160,000 square feet inside and out at the Denver Mart.

We spoke with Elise Weiland VanDyne, lead organizer of Maker Faire Denver, to learn more.

How has Colorado Maker Hub been instrumental in the growth of the Colorado Maker Movement?
The growth of Maker Faires has had a lot to do with growing the community. Loveland Creator Space introduces themselves as “We got our start because of/at the NoCo Mini Maker Faire.” The Colorado Maker Hub has also been supporting different aspects of the maker community outside of the Faires, establishing a youth maker program, winning the Denver Public Schools Design Challenge to bring innovation to education.

As one Poudre School District teacher shared, “In my school, I am the only one bringing in maker ed. It’s so important for me to have this network of other educators to share experiences with.” With the annual Rocky Mountain Makerspace Summit we bring together makerspaces to learn best practices, for older spaces to mentor new ones, and to collaborate. As one national leader said after the last Summit (to paraphrase), I’ve been working with spaces all over the country and Colorado is significantly farther ahead in makerspace organization and collaboration.

Why was Colorado Maker Hub originally started and how has it evolved?
Colorado Maker Hub began and has grown in response to the community. I was introduced to the Maker Movement by a VP at Colorado State University saying “Colorado needs a Maker Faire,” so we founded our nonprofit and started producing Faires. Then educators came to us and said “We need more professional support. How do we translate what we see in the Faires into the classroom?” So we dove into that.

Then the makerspaces came to us and said, “We need to have an annual meeting of makerspaces and we’re too busy to make that work at the Faire. We need you to organize it.” That became the annual summer Rocky Mountain Makerspace Summit that brings in makerspace leaders from across the region and from other states around the nation.

Our community has been concerned about getting underserved kids into making and bridging the digital divide, so we started a program sponsoring youth from low income schools into the Faire and we created a donation ticket on our site, so even if you can’t make it to the Faire, please think about donating a ticket for an underserved student. Really, just about everything we do and have grown into has been driven by the community asking us for support.

How has having a Maker Faire in Denver affected the local maker community over the past few years?
We’ve grown together. I think these testimonials show how intertwined the maker community and the Maker Faire are together:

Business Development: “Clear Blue Engineering met a new client at the 2014 NoCo Mini Maker Faire who is continuing to contribute a significant portion to their growth and profits. At Colorado Mini Maker Faires, Clear Blue Engineering met a highly talented production manager and a mechanical engineer who are now on their staff. One of their past executives, Tom Germon, founded the Gizmo Dojo, a makerspace in Broomfield.

In the past two years while participating in the NoCo and Denver Mini Maker Faires, Clear Blue Engineering has experienced 80% business growth and has created 40 new jobs. Their new clients consists of major corporations, startup companies and Makers. Clear Blue is deeply ingrained in the maker culture and credits the maker community as a foundation for their success.” —Paul Garcia, General Manager, Clear Blue Engineering

Collaborations for Progress: “After our talk at the Denver Mini Maker Faire, we were approached by a local community college whose engineering students had never been in a machine shop. Now we have set up a collaboration enabling their engineering students to come into and learn in our operating machine shop.” —Ryan, Zometool

Impact on Young Makers: “Usually my daughter wakes up on Sunday mornings and jumps right into watching cartoons. Instead, the morning after the Denver Mini Maker Faire, she came running up to me saying ‘Daddy, let’s build a project today!’ —Anonymous parent

What makes you care so much about your local maker community? Why is doing all this work to make Maker Faire worth it to you?
From the time I was a small child, I’ve wanted to help make the world a better place. After working in the corporate world and moving to nonprofits, I found that the Maker Movement brought together all of the things that I really care about: changing the way we function from education through entrepreneurship, creative expression through workforce development, community collaboration and resilience. The Maker Movement empowers people to build the future, and I want to help the maker ethos of creating, sharing, and collaborating to be our foundation.

The 15 Makerspaces of Maker Faire Denver

Colorado has seemingly endless makerspace offerings, and an impressive number of these spaces will be representing at Maker Faire Denver. VanDyne offers further insight:

We have 15 makerspaces participating. That is also a global record and illustrates the strength of Colorado’s Maker Movement and the depth of community engagement from across the state in this event.

These are only the makerspaces participating in the Faire. We have an equal number of significant makerspaces in the state that are not participating. Pikes Peak is going to focus on their local Mini Maker Faire taking place just a week later, for example. All these spaces come together each summer for the Rocky Mountain Makerspace Summit. They’re working individually and together to be resources for their towns in creative expression, entrepreneurship, workforce re-training, STEM youth education, and building community. Our makerspaces work together more than just about any state’s spaces. Our guests have said that our spaces were more organized and worked together better than any state they’d visited.

Below is a listing of the 15 makerspaces in attendance this weekend, along with their orientation (independent, school-based, library-based), location, short description, and what they’ll be bringing to the Faire. In addition to what’s listed here, most will be showing off the innovative creations of their members and sharing information on how to get involved.

1. Loveland CreatorSpace, independent, Loveland, Colo.
This nonprofit space is integrated with the arts community in Loveland and offers a range of equipment and skills, including woodworking, metalworking, electronics, and large community projects such as the annual Paper Fashion Show and creating the Dragonfly Mating Ritual sculpture for Burning Man.

They run the Nerdy Derby each year, plus bring member projects to display.

2. SolderWorks, independent, Westminster, Colo.
This new for-profit enterprise offers a co-working space for professional makers, focusing on IoT and entrepreneurs.

They’ll bring robotic tours.

3. TinkerMill, independent, Longmont, Colo.
This is the largest makerspace in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region, with more than 600 paying members and more than 2,500 active members in their Meetup group. This nonprofit’s talented members provides a community workshop supporting each other and other community entities by learning, teaching, collaborating, and creating. They’re deeply involved in Longmont’s economic development efforts and encourage new product and business creation through mentoring and onsite office and workshop space.

They’re making video games and paper crafts.

4. Denver Design Incubator (DDI), independent, Denver, Colo.
This nonprofit is dedicated to providing the local community with resources, education, and professional development that will enhance and support a thriving and sustainable apparel and sewn-products industry in Colorado.

They’ll offer a fabric draping and sewing workshop in the Fashion Hackers showcase.

5. Mines Maker Society, school-based, Golden, Colo.
This is the official makerspace of the Colorado School of Mines. They are committed to “helping anyone make anything.” Their main purpose is to develop a strong making community, strengthen the collaborative mindset, and streamline the resources used for the community.

They’re bringing a T-shirt cannon and a “Better Sketching with CAD” workshop, where they’ll take an engineer’s approach to sketching faster and more effectively.

6. BLDG 61, library-based, Boulder, Colo.
This makerspace located in the main Boulder Library is a highly effective community space. They integrate with other Boulder city services and have created a workforce training program using recycled timbers, partner their users with the SBDC next door to help with patents and new business creation, and have a robust user base.

They’re bringing laser-cut DIY gliders and will showcase some of their special Bldg 61 projects, including working with underserved communities in north Boulder to design and fabricate little libraries as part of their outreach. Plus, one of the groups that meets at their space, the Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic, will show us how to repair lamps.

7. Solid State Depot, independent, Boulder, Colo.
This community hackerspace tends to have more of an electronics and computer-oriented focus, as well as an exploration of the intersection of art and tech. Founded in 2010, the space functions as both a workshop and a place to hold meetings.

They’ll be bringing a ping-pong game, a drawing robot, and a favorite project called SoundPuddle, an interactive art piece made with lights that respond to sound around it.

8. IdeaLab, library-based, Denver, Colo.
Based in the Denver Public Library, this free, all-ages makerspace is another valuable community resource doing very cool things.

They’ll be using the HTC Vive Virtual Reality headset to create 3D models that can then be 3D printed.

9. Arapahoe Libraries Makerspace, library-based, Centennial, Colo.

This free DIY creative space features all the tools you need to tinker, hack, craft, or create anything you can imagine. No appointment needed, all items are available on a first come, first served basis.

They’ll be making cool bow ties and hair bows from graphic novels and playing with Cozmo, Hackaball, and Gear VR.

10. DenHac, independent, Denver, Colo.
Founded in 2008, this is Denver’s oldest makerspace, the granddaddy of them all! Their mission is to create and sustain a local, community-driven, shared space that enables education, experimentation, and collaboration, by applying the spirit of DIY to science, technology, engineering, and art.

They’re bringing their Artemis Star Trek Bridge Simulator, where participants each take a station and run the Start Trek Bridge.

11. MindCraft Makerspace, independent, Aurora, Colo.

Located in the trendy Stanley Marketplace, this relatively new space focused on education offers a wide variety of educational programming and memberships for makers ages 4–104. They have 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters with a heat press, and a full sewing lab.

They’ll be bringing laser-carved and 3D-printed Halloween pumpkins.

12. The Gizmo Dojo, independent, Broomfield, Colo.
For years, this dedicated group was essentially a meetup out of garages, and they just got their own space last year.

They’ll be bringing an ultrasonic piano, Daleks, and a “Paintapult,” among other projects.

13. Fort Collins Creator Hub, independent, Fort Collins, Colo.
This makerspace is comprised of a community of people, a building full of tools, and classes open to the public to come learn, build, and create.

They’ll be bringing their “Balance Pong” game that you can play on their huge LED display.

14. RAFT Colorado, independent, Denver, Colo.

RAFT stands for “Resource Area for Teaching” and their mission is to help educators build their students’ minds through interactive, hands-on learning. RAFT collaborates with Colorado businesses, community members, and education organizations to provide teachers with affordable tools, ideas, and learning experiences to inspire the next generation of thinkers, innovators, problem-solvers, and creators.

Art meets engineering, city planning, and sustainability in “Uptopia”. Put your creativity to the test and try your hand at creating an upcycled utopia.

15. Inworks of the University of Colorado, school-based, Denver, Colo.

Inworks draws together faculty, staff and students from across the two campuses, as well as entrepreneurs and leaders from industry, government, education and the community, to address problems of importance to human society. Their mission is to impart skills and habits of mind that allow people to collaboratively create impactful solutions to human problems. Inworks seeks to create innovative solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems, while in the process creating life-long innovators.

They will be displaying innovative student projects.

Meow Wolf Collab

Maker Faire Denver has teamed up with renowned installation collective Meow Wolf to bring in hands-on arts from four Denver artists, including a bronze and aluminum pour with the CU Sculpture Department (below), a community mural wall for visitors to help paint with Denver mural artists, yarn bombing and fiber arts with the Ladies Fancywork Society (above), and an interactive sound and light experience with Outside In.

Fashion Hacker Showcase

Working with a number of groups such as Colorado Fabrics, Denver Design Incubator, and Mindcraft Makerspace, Maker Faire Denver presents a Fashion Hacker Showcase for the first time, showcasing traditional, unique, and technology-based techniques and fashions, with judging in cosplay, steampunk, and a range of costumed participants. Pictured here is a custom Tardis corset from ReviveGifts.

SparkFun AVC 2017

For the first year, Maker Faire Denver will be hosting SparkFun AVC (Autonomous Vehicle Competition) 2017, a combination competition involving a self-driving car race and a combat bots tournament. AVC 2017 welcomes competitors looking to test their engineering acumen against makers from all over the country.

Now in its ninth year, this year’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition will incorporate opportunities for teams to solve for real-world challenges in the self-driving car industry, including complex decision-making, randomized obstacles, human riders, and simulated inclement weather conditions.

The combat bot tournament will feature the biggest robots in the Western states, with 12lb and 30lb bots competing for the first time at the event. The tournament, led by Casey Kuhns and former competitors on ABC’s Battle Bots competition, is now the third largest tournament of its kind in the world.

SparkFun’s Megan Arnold shares, “SparkFun AVC 2017 will be our biggest year ever with nearly 200 robots registered to compete. We’re honored to work with Colorado Maker Hub to bring the Rocky Mountain maker community together to celebrate all the ingenuity and creativity the region has to offer.”

For all the information you need to join the Colorado maker community and get inspired this weekend, head to the Maker Faire Denver site!