Santa Needs Maker Microfactories

Makerspace Workshop
Tim Keller at Inventopia

A conversation with Tim Keller of Inventopia in Davis, CA




You can imagine how it is at the North Pole this time of year. The elves are overworked and they’re running behind. Getting all the required materials to the North Pole is really hard with the supply chain problems. And then Santa has to distribute everything in a 24 hour time span around the globe. Plus, you know, a lot of the toys and goodies on the way or the same old toys and goodies that we’ve had for years. And there’s not a lot of innovation going on in Santa’s workshop. 

Santa, if you’re listening, I’d like you to consider investing in maker micro factories, places like the one we learn about in this episode. 

This one is called Inventopia, and it’s located in Davis, California in the neighborhood of one of the largest research universities in the world. The Santa of Inventopia is Tim Keller. And he has entrepreneurs instead of elves working to bring new product ideas to life. Sure like your elves, they spend long hours working, but they are happily prototyping and producing new things often using new processes. Tim knows to stay out of their way and help them only if they ask for it. 

So Santa, you should really talk to Tim Keller, as I did in this episode. Tim knows nothing of this bigger plan but I think you can see the possibilities. If you follow Tim’s example, you’d forget about the single facility you have in the north pole. You’d build Santatopia, not one but many and have them everywhere in the world. You’d not only have new toys and goodies to meet the changing demands of children everywhere. But you’d be creating new toy makers and harnessing all kinds of technical and creative talent around the world. Think of it, Santa. Santatopia, a network of maker microfactories for future Christmases. 

I’d be happy to make an introduction to Tim. I think you’d like him. 

Dale: Welcome to Make Cast.

I’m Dale Dougherty with Make Magazine and I’m talking to Tim Keller. Tim is from Inventopia in Davis. Welcome. 

Tim: Pleasure to be here. . 

Dale: I visited Inventopia a couple weeks ago. You had a Makeathon going on there, which we’ll talk about. You are in Davis. You are located nearby University of California at Davis, and you have what, you’ve called a microfactory. So explain what Inventopia is, how you came up with the idea and how it got started. 

Tim: Yeah, so Inventopia is something that like all good inventions, you think you invented something and then start looking around, you realize other people have done it. We’re a lot like TechShop was. We look a lot like a makerspace, but we are for startup companies. And so I call it a microfactory because this would distinguish it because makerspaces tend to be like STEM education, arts and crafts, DIY kind of focused. We are entrepreneurship focused. UC Davis is a research university. Unlike most colleges, it specifically gets money to do research, which is then supposed to be translated into products and into other things that help society. There’s about a billion dollars worth of research being done here.

A participant in the makeathon at Inventopia

It’s actually a better funded research university than Berkeley and if you peel the linear accelerator off of Stanford, there’s more research funding than Stanford. So it’s a giant in that space. And all of that work should be put to work once that research is done, there should be some benefit to society that comes out of that work.

You need to translate that into the real world. And so we try to help do that. There is this law that’s on the books called The Bayh-Dole Act of, I think it was 1980, and Dole was like Senator Bob Dole, for those of us old enough to remember him. It basically states that any research that’s funded by the university belongs to the university.

And so there is this point where if you want to turn a innovation into a product, you need to get it out of the university’s purview because any follow-on innovations then belong to the university and most investors don’t wanna invest in that. So if you have off-campus, external funding, like venture funding or angel funding, you need to be off campus at that point.

One of the things that we do is we provide standoff space in terms of intellectual property distinction for the university. So technologies that kind of get to the point where that R and D needs to be translated into the real world, they need to get off campus. And we provide space for doing that. 

Dale: Let’s just say the case where there’s some idea at the university that some professor or grad student has. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Dale: And they want to take it and commercialize it themselves, right? They go to you. The university still has some rights in that. 

Tim: Yes. 

Dale: You somehow quantify what those rights are at the time you’re moving it out, right? 

Tim: Yeah. And I should also put a little asterisk on that, which is that only about 30, 40% maybe of all of our ideas involve university technology. One of the interesting things that happens with the university is that a lot of very smart couples come here. One of the two have faculty position and the other one they probably met in school. And so they’re just as smart, but they don’t work for the university. And so they’re doing their own thing here. About 40% of our companies that is described. So it’s not necessarily all university IP. But I do think that you probably wouldn’t have what we’re doing. You wouldn’t have a microfactory like us in a non-university. It would, there wouldn’t be enough kind of volume there, I think. 

But to actually answer your question. The university, like when you’ve invent something on campus, there’s an invention disclosure agreement. There’s a formal process, and then there’s a tech transfer office that’s in charge of licensing these things out, and they will try to license the IP back to the person who invented it. It’s not necessarily guaranteed. And then, but once you do that, the reason why you really wanna get away from university when you have external funding, is a lot of times there’s iterations on technology.

Just you make a prototype, you need to prove if it works or not. And sometimes you modify that technology or that technology leads you to another discovery, which is also patentable. So those follow on inventions if they’re paid for, like off-campus funding, They need to be in an off-campus place.

Dale: And just to clarify, because this is an IP area that is a little murky sometimes. This specifically is a case where the university has somehow invested or supported that invention. It isn’t just like a student had an idea and therefore the university can claim rights. We’ve had some issues early on in some makerspaces, whether or not student’s work, just done independently would trigger any of that. So that’s why I asked. 

Tim: We’ve never run into that. In fact, I I have a student entrepreneur, I could hit him if, he is five feet away this way.

And he, came up with a thing and developed it on campus. did get, we, he was smart enough to get the university to specifically say, yes, we have put no cash into your thing. This is coursework and whatever. But yeah, that kind of other balance of companies is basically that.

Dale: So just maybe talk a little bit about your space. You have a warehouse type facility, right? Yeah, that you’ve cut up into three or four different areas. 

Tim: If you envision a makerspace, but that also has a huge wet lab. That’s kind of it. We have the room that you see in, in front of me, but behind us, I have a room that’s full of 3D printers. We have a really good setup for composites. We also have a machine shop with CNC Mill and lathes. We have laser cutters, all the stuff that you normally find in a well-equipped makerspace.

But we don’t have is students, right? So if you go to a university makerspace, one of the things that kind of occurred to me in the makeathon that we had is that there are, when you have a makerspace, you’re actually helping make makers. And the people that came to the makeathon, some of them were already makers and they were part participants in other makerspaces. Actually don’t do that. I think that’s a weakness of this model, which is that, we’re not investing in skill development, we’re providing facilities. 

Dale: But in an ecosystem, yeah. You need both. And then some, maybe some facilities would do both. I used to hear that at TechShop it was a challenge in ways, to have people that were there doing, doing a job, right? They had work to do. Either they were a contractor doing work or they were an entrepreneur creating some new thing. They liked rubbing elbows with others that are doing that, but they didn’t necessarily want to answer every newbies question about how do I use this or that tool. But I always felt that, it was a good place to start projects, but that they needed to be able to graduate out into something like a microfactory. 

Tim: Yeah.

Dale: Where they needed to make arrangements about how they use a particular piece of equipment, how much they’re producing something. It sounds like a company can be located in your space. 

Tim: Yeah. We have maybe 30 companies that use this as their primary mailing address. And some of ’em just need that. They’re in the middle of a grant process and so they’ll start as a mailbox and then they’ll get their grant and then they’ll move in here once they actually have the work to do and the money comes in. We sponsor students and stuff, but that issue of like people getting in each other’s way, we avoid it by not doing the makerspace stuff.

Dale: Tell me, let’s say the entrepreneurs, the people that come and use your space, do they know how to use the equipment and things like that? 

Tim: No. So some do, right? My policy is if you have learned how to do this elsewhere, you demonstrate to me that you know how to use it.

And it’s very clear. Like I have a guy, he’s trying to do like a distributed way to make PLA printer filaments, so that if you have access to corn and you’re in sub-Saharan Africa someplace, you can make printer filament. That’s kinda like his vision, right? And he used to work out of a TechShop.

And so I set him up, I said, Hey, bring in a part. Show me what you wanna do. And it’s really easy to see, if someone like knows what buttons to push. When you know how to use the equipment, it’s clear. And so the safety checkoff we do is I watch them make a part and it’s very clear if they know how. If they don’t, I will refer them to other makerspaces.

Or I try to foster a collaborative thing. There’s a bunch of students here. Some of the college students that we sponsor on — we sponsored the Formula team, the satellite team here at Davis. Some of those kids were a part of high school robotics teams, which had Tormach mills, and those guys know the machining stuff better than I do.

And so I’ll try to connect them. And this guy who’s a student can do a project and make a little bit of money on the side for this company who needs that. And then some of those people have gone on to have full-time jobs with those companies. 

Dale: Where I say they overlap is in, in some ways, even these entrepreneurs have to do it themselves, they can’t afford sometimes the traditional expensive way of getting contract manufacturing done.

Tim: Right.

Dale: They’re trying to get a few things into the market and see if they can get some funding for that. 

Tim: That certainly happens, but I actually have found that there’s fewer entrepreneurs than I thought that are willing to learn the stuff. Like I taught myself the CMC machining and the industrial automation stuff because I had to. I needed to make something.

I was starting a company in the middle of the great recession. I had more time than money, and so I just taught myself that. That is not standard for entrepreneurs. If there’s a Venn diagram, there are people who are entrepreneurs, there’s people who are makers. Not everyone who’s a maker is an entrepreneur.

There’s a lot of projects that I see on Hackaday or something like that. The person just says, Hey, there’s a cool thing I made. And I’m like I want that. And they’re not even thinking of commercializing it. And then, a lot of entrepreneurs just wanna outsource that stuff, and if they have the funding, then they can, but it’s not universal that those two things overlap. For sure.

Dale: Sometimes the innovation is in how you make something. It isn’t just what you make. It’s I can make this cheaper; I can use these tools to do something. I think you have some examples in there, but I can’t recall exactly, but, medical devices and other things. There’s a certain scale element that you’re able to exploit. 

Tim: In the medical device project that I showed you, we have two patents that we’re gonna be filing. I’m not gonna tell you what they’re, because that would be disclosure, but they only came about because we built it and then saw what broke.

And, when you’re fixing something that no one else has broken before, there’s a good chance that’s patentable. Very rarely is there a patentable, a good patentable idea that just comes to you whole cloth out of the void. It’s when you’re in motion doing things, breaking things, and you have to solve those problems that you have those kind of unique insights. 

Dale: That’s where I think the maker side of this a little bit is when you’re deep enough into this, you see those problems, that you can’t just imagine those problems. You encounter them and you go, that’s interesting. Why doesn’t that do that? 

I’m really interested in the wet lab. Talk to us about that or tell others the kinds of projects you have in there. And again, for those that don’t know, Davis is known as an agricultural school center of the California agricultural economy. So a lot of the research that’s there has to do with plants and food. 

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the number one agricultural school in the world and I don’t think that we’re the only ones who are saying that. I think other people say that as well. We also have an insane veterinary school. There’s a great medical center. Of the companies that are here, most of them are actually in the lab.

And and some are both lab and hardware. The one where I told you the entrepreneurs are like right there, they do like embryo tools for embryologists. So they have space in the lab and they’re take embryos like mice embryos on chips and put them through microfluidics, get them to a sensor, and they can tell a whole lot of things with that.

They can do gene editing if they want. And they have both wet lab and they have a significant hardware side of that as well. My last company that I started 10 years ago was in wine closure manufacturing. And we needed the lab to quantify — 

Dale: Wine closure. That’s a fancy word for a cap, right? 

Tim: For a screw cap, yeah. Oh, yeah. But like there was the lab thing, but then there was also manufacturing, right? We have people who are doing cell culture technology; there’s a lot of companies in that space. You had the kind of beyond meat, the impossible burgers.

People are doing that with chocolate. Like most chocolate that people eat is harvested by slave children, unfortunately, in West Africa. We have a company that’s doing synthetic caviar but with real egg cells, you know that they’re just growing the eggs in a vat. We could bring down the price of caviar without, and it is still actually caviar.

So there’s a variety of companies like that. If you have blue M and M’s, that blue food coloring is a chemical and, in large quantities, it’s probably not the best thing to eat. And so there’s a company here that’s found an enzymatic cross way to make a blue food coloring from cabbage.

So an organic based, blue food coloring. They’ve made that and they’re about to license it to a big candy company. So these are things you don’t necessarily find in a most makerspaces. 

Dale: That’s pretty interesting. So how do you get new people? Do you have to recruit them? Do they just walk in the door? 

Tim: I have to fend them off with a stick. Davis is not unlike other California towns in that it struggles with growth. A lot of people who live in California have tend to think we’ve built enough in California, yet we are, I think, the sixth biggest world economy if we were like our own country.

 So there’s still a huge number of people and lab space is super expensive. Shop space is cheap, in terms of the per square foot, but then you need to install air compressors and all the electrical and stuff. If you’re an entrepreneur there the, I think the easiest way to describe it is that if you’re an entrepreneur, if you look at how commercial real estate works, right? If you’re a landlord, the landlords look at you like, what’s your revenue? What’s your credit worthiness? If I give you the space and I help build it out, and you customize it, and you put vent holes in the roof, whatever, they want you there for a three to five year lease. And if you are a startup, the odds are you’re not gonna be in business in six months.

You know. On average, those are the odds, right? So landlords look at a startup like a venereal disease. They’re just –No, go. Please go away. One of the ways I describe what Inventopia does is we’re an adapter between the commercial reality of what makes a landlord tick, which is that they want consistency and individual startups need access to this space. But they might either hurry up and succeed and scale out, or they’re gonna hurry up and fail. What makes it work is the fact that because we’re in a town with a major powerhouse research university, there’s always startups coming. There’s a consistent stream of startup activity happening.

And they, we have a waitlist for people to get into here. They either hear about us by word of mouth or that tech transfer office introduces us. But then, in a small town like this, I go to all of the business plan competitions. Even for a town of 60,000 people, it’s small enough that everybody knows me. 

Dale: Now you set up Inventopia as a non-profit, is that right? You came up with the idea. Yeah. Did you know that you would have these entrepreneurs in there? 

Tim: No, I invented it for me. But what I was gonna say is I thought that I invented it, but then I realized though TechShop is already a thing and, Hacker Lab in Sacramento is another kind of model. Both of those were for-profit models. And it always seemed to me after, and because I’m an MBA and an entrepreneur background, I looked at it and I realized there is no way to make money here . If you come at it, you might think oh, these people are coming, why don’t you take a percentage of their equity and make an investment? That, that could happen alongside as a separate venture sort of thing. But most entrepreneurs don’t want the money. They don’t want advising. Like a lot of business incubators are just, oh, we’re gonna give you coaching.

Most entrepreneurs know what they do and they have enough coaching. If you have any investors, you have a lot of coaches. And they just want access to the resources and get the hell outta your way. 

Dale: Yeah that’s really clear. I was gonna say this difference from an incubator, which is often so much on the investment side of, oh we can help you get investment. So you got some space and other things, but they’re taking a piece of your your idea. 

Tim: And the space they’re giving you is typically office space. During Covid, we realized really isn’t worth much at all. And they also wanna graduate you.

If you were a company, the company’s here, some of them are quick. There was one company that was here for a year and they just raised $4 million and they’re out. There’s a company that was in here for two years. They make plants that glow in response to environmental stresses.

If they have a fungal infection, they’ll start glowing. And the glow at a wavelength that you can see from a satellite, they just raised 16 million from John Deere. And so they scaled out and they have their own facility and they’re raising more money. But other ones are a really slow R and D burn.

So the same one that I told you, the embryology company, that’s a class three medical device. It’s gonna be in the pipeline for a long time. And in the meantime 

Dale: to get approvals and 

Tim: to get all their approvals. They’re working through doing my stuff.

Eventually they want to be able to make better judgements about human embryos. Like the IVF success rates are horrible. So they eventually, they want to be able to advise people on human IVF stuff so that you have better outcomes in human IVF. But to get there it’s 10 years.

So they’re keeping their burn rate really low by staying here. 

Dale: You’re a nonprofit and you said, you can’t make money at it. You are making at least money to keep the nonprofit going.

And your model is you basically rent from the entrepreneurs. They pay for the space and access to the tools and things, but it seems to me you provide real value to them in that process. And that there are a lot of towns across America and other places that, set up fancy incubators, tech incubators, expensive real estate, et cetera, et cetera, yeah. And it’s sometimes hard for me anyway, this is my opinion that, I question what value they really bring. They’re maybe a filter like of deal flow to some local investors, but oftentimes they’re predicated on the idea that you know, that a few, very few of those companies will be successful because that’s how startups work. But I think there was some proof in TechShop, despite it’s closing that kind of place attracted people who had ideas and could actually do something with them because that place existed.

The microfactory is such a cool idea. If America wants to bring manufacturing back, 

Tim: oh, for sure. 

Dale: They’re talking like these big manufacturing plants and spending billions of dollars on that. I’d love them to say, no, we need these microfactory type arrangements that could be, a part of, or spinoffs of makerspaces, but, we know what the equipment is, we know what the skillsets are. Someone like you, I, I want to get into that later, but you are really smart at being able to help people, and advise them. It’s about, how do I do this? How do I build something? Create something. So it’s a really I guess where I’m going with that is just have you heard people doing similar things, not the makerspace part of it, but really that focus on entrepreneur and microfactory. 

Tim: There’s a place called mHub in Chicago. 

Dale: Yeah, I’ve, they were my first podcast. 

Tim: Oh, really? Okay. Yeah. I haven’t been there. I don’t know anyone there, but at least from the media that I’ve seen on it, that looks like,

Dale: yeah, that’s true. 

Tim: Spot on. Like the best analog. They were really lucky, right? I They had a facility that was being vacated. Yeah. Then they had another organization that was like mine that got picked up and then the city came alongside.

Inventopia is still in that pre, we don’t have a big sponsor. The city of Davis lent us some money and we’re repaying that so that we could do the build out of this facility. But we, it’s the, it’s really a co-op model. And I think for it to be, if, for it to be more successful than it is, you would need that skills gap kind of thing that we talked about too.

And that would be writing some grants for vocational training and stuff like that. There are still a shortage of machinists and welders and interestingly enough in this area, biotech lab personnel, people who can work in bio-manufacturing. In fact, there’s new vocational programs popping up for how do you professionally lab tech?

Because the students here at Davis are taught those skills, but generally they want to escalate their careers. They paid a lot of money for their degree. They don’t wanna be doing the day-to-day lab tech. They wanna be the doctor, not the dental hygienist. There’s a huge skill gap in there, and I think that is the kind of stuff that government can play a role in or economic development funds. 

For me, my next pitch to the city of Davis here is I want money for a grant writer. So I can start doing those things and then we can figure it out. I would love to have programs where we are making makers. That would be good and it’s necessary. 

Dale: But I love the distinction in some ways, and I appreciate the way you say that, but it’s, I’m going back to your comment that the majority of entrepreneurs don’t want to get involved the process of making the thing that they need.

So you actually could, have –I always thought if you had an active maker community there you could. No, yeah. It could make a team, you could pitch ideas, say, Hey, this guy needs this. Does anybody wanna work on that? And there’s a maker out there that probably just likes having that kind of work to do.

Tim: That is very much happening here. We have through students that we’ve met, that we’ve sponsored here, on the teams. I met a kid that I ended up hiring named Louk, and he was helping me program the medical robot. But then another company that’s here that does so solar panel inspection discovered him and they were, oh, you can do this. He, I think, has been done work for three different companies that. 

Louk Goldberg at Inventopia

Dale: That’s not Louk, the rocket guy. 

Tim: It is Louk, the rocket guy. Talk about ADHD engineering. He’s worse than I am. Very ambitious, but very smart, right? Yeah. And everybody sees that in him, right? He needs to pick a lane and focus a little bit, but —

Dale: But just to give a little piece of background. At the Makeathon, you saw your normal range of products and things in there. Louk’s was about building an ion engine to send something to the moon. And this could be done. And he really envisioned it as like a DIY project that’s I can do this. 

Tim: We’l make an ion engine for a spacecraft in four weeks. 

Dale: And set it up myself.

Tim: Yeah. There is there’s enthusiasm and intelligence there. Yes. He’s gonna have to learn the practicality aspects. By blunt force. 

Dale: Reality as a way of breaking in, but yeah it, just that power of imagination coupled with intelligence is really fun to see.

Tim: I think if you were talking about, what we do as a model, right? And could it be replicated? I still do believe this kind of basic fact, which is like the technology that exists and how cheap things are just because of the smartphone, the tail end, sensors and low power electronics, there are so many things where those kind of technologies are gonna filter into more objects around us. And I hate the term internet of things because they’re not, they don’t have to be connected to the internet. But there’s, but smart devices and smart things.

There is so much potential for new products that don’t exist now but could exist with today’s technology. They maybe didn’t, wouldn’t work 10 years ago, but they are now that we have decades of and hundreds of maybe thousands of companies that, 

Dale: It’s a combinatorial thing. Just all these really standardized, cheap components can be combined unique ways.

But the thing you said earlier, in some ways, we need those people identifying the problems and I always say like technology exists without having a problem set attached to. It’s just, it’s good at doing certain things, and it could be faster or cheaper, but when you have someone say, I could use this and I can use that and put this together and it solves this real problem, that’s the magic.

 I would love to see that kind of entrepreneurialism flourish more. Silicon Valley’s kind of created a model where relatively simple ideas flourish pretty broadly, like social media. Yeah. The kinds of things that you’re talking about, like in biomanufacturing or other fields, medical fields, it’s like there’s something that can’t be done easily today that could be done better. 

Tim: Silicon Valley though, has its own filter, right? Unless there’s a potential that you could have a billion dollar return, they’re not interested. 

Dale: Exactly. I think the approach for a lot of small towns and university towns is to say that’s not our model.

Tim: Yeah. 

Dale: We could build a tool that could have a 10 million dollar market. 

Tim: That’d be pretty cool. And employ dozens of people. Exactly. So there’s the example of Walker Wonders, and you saw them at the Makeathon. It’s a lady and her partner.

The team of Walker Wonders

She has a walker and she realized like, I’m walking through my house at night. I run into stuff all the time. Maybe you don’t have your glasses on. Why don’t they have a light on your walker? Yeah. Like exactly oh yes. What does that exist? No, it doesn’t. It’s crazy. 

Dale: And it’s not unlike you saying, I’m inventing something because I need it myself. And you’d say a non-traditional maker and nontraditional entrepreneur, 

Tim: but who cares? 

Dale: Exactly. No more power to them, really. But the fact that they could, start thinking about this and know that it’s possible, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can become a successful business.

But we need more of those idea s being worked on. And I think that’s the power of it. With the microfactory approach, the level of investment in these ideas is rather small, compared to the Silicon Valley model, which is, oh, we just raised, 4 billion or something like that. That’s a lot of money on a particular idea. And I think some of the companies you have in there are working on thousand dollar budgets or something like that. And that’s great for making innovation accessible. 

Tim: My vision has always been for Inventopia to make it so that you can go as far as possible without any fundraising. With my wine closure company, I had to quit my day job because I had to go full-time to raise money. Just having phone conversations and having to do that like after work, you’re automatically dead. If you’re not working on it full-time, no investor is gonna think you’re taking it seriously enough.

Then that also meant that I had to be raising money before I had a prototype, which was harder. Once I had a prototype, once I could say, Hey, here’s this wine with my closure on it. Here’s the same wine with the standard, no oxygen closure on it. You can taste the difference and you could taste the difference quite dramatically, even within six months.

After I could do that it wasn’t $5,000 checks, it was half million dollar checks. And so if you can work at Starbucks and come here? I have a guy, the guy who’s trying to make, open source printer filament. He’s a classical musician. He plays viola in symphonies around and like those stand in viola.

He’s a, he is a musician and he gigs. A classical musician, they still, he’s still gigs. And he comes here and works in between, and he’s bootstrapping it. And that’s a model which I think more people could do.

Dale: That’s the real alternative to Silicon Valley is really to do it without investment. Do it in a model where you’re making something that you know you can sell at some point. And, even if it requires say investment to manufacture something, whatever, you can pay it back. It’s more like a loan, you pay back than a deep chunk of equity. 

 I wish you luck on that. And I really hope this provides a different kind of landscape of opportunity for people who would not really fit into the software driven model of scale that Silicon Valley promotes.

It’s interesting I think sometimes the development in academia gets paralyzed a little bit because it’s very hierarchical. You gotta go through all these years of graduate school and all this other stuff. That’s why some people drop out. There are graduate students that are probably, ready to start with their idea and they just need a way to go forward on that. Maybe some encouragement just to go do it. Not to wait till 10 years down the road.

Tim: What’s interesting, or at least maybe a little difficult, is that those people are generally not the people who have invested the time to become a maker, right? They’ve been in academics, they’ve been, we need to do this experiment. I need to buy this piece of lab equipment. It’s like everything has been done and you don’t DIY a lot of stuff in the lab environment because you’d be introducing variables. There is a team component. I think that really does have to happen. We need to introduce those people to someone who can do the making side.

Dale: Yeah. Matchmaking of sorts, huh? 

Tim: And if we couldn’t figure out how to, because some of them are bootstrappable but some are really hard to bootstrap. And part of that answer is the SBIR process, the small business innovation research program, federal government, every agency has an SBIR program, like 3% of their budget has to be invested in research projects. But that program has its own challenges. And the other last thing I’m looking at is a kind of a venture studio model where you could raise a fund for investment, but the projects wouldn’t have to be, is the full-time entrepreneur who’s gonna be launching in six months. That kind of pressure could be off. You could say, Hey, we’re gonna forward this model. We’re gonna enroll this guy. We’d be working Fridays , and we’re gonna let this project mature slowly. It could be a billion dollars, but it’s gonna, it just takes time to get there, and you could just have a different way of putting smaller amounts of money more efficiently into smaller projects. 

Part of that the Silicon Valley filter that’s so difficult is that there’s a lot of good ideas, but they’re not Silicon Valley big. And and some of them aren’t even big enough. Like the right way to do it would be to develop the idea, prove it, maybe get some initial feedback, and then license that technology to somebody else.

There’s all sorts of companies in that kind of middle pathway I think we could do a better job supporting 

Dale: You’re doing a form of like public R and D. It’s an open model of that, that I think that’s what I wish there were a way to get, I don’t know if it’s government or if you want government in it, but it’s just as a recognition of this being a public thing that should be available, more accessible as opposed to, the VC model, which is pretty elite and privileged.

 The other thing I would say that it seems that something that I hope others see your particular value in this, that you’re seeing a lot of these kind of startups and it’s not just about whether they have a good idea. It’s whether they can build the thing that they want.

That’s where I’ve seen in Silicon Valley is they don’t have that skillset, right? So it scares ’em. Yeah. Because they know what it might take to build an app, right? It takes six weeks or three months or whatever it is, but to build some of these biomedical devices, how long should that take? That’s a tough question for the average investor to answer, especially when the, in, the creator/inventor/maker is really cycling through prototypes and they don’t necessarily know when they’ll be done. But just almost like the way you look at them and say, do they know what they’re doing? That’s pretty valuable. 

Tim: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And you find that out really fast. Even on the life science. There’s companies that we know came to Davis because they had some idea and they had some investment, and it was very clear that, oh crap, to do this I need a plant geneticist. And so there, there’s companies that have actually even come through and graduated where they started in the Bay Area and they quickly realized they needed to be here, just because there’s that talent and they needed access to the people who knew those disciplines. Yeah. 

Dale: Tim, it’s a pleasure talking to you today and I wish you the best of luck and I’d love to stay in touch. I enjoyed my visit and I just think what you’re doing is fantastic. 

Tim: Yeah. Thank you. Again, there’s no money in it. This is not my job. The real benefit though is that, having served in this capacity for this nonprofit I do know everybody in this town. And I’ve helped a lot of people and they communicate to me that they appreciate the service and I always look at Steve Jobs died, wishing he had spent more time with his kids. I think that the final metric in life is, what kind of things people say about you at your funeral.

And hopefully I’ve helped enough people that I’m stacking up some credits in that category. A lot of people saying that I helped them, when I pass on. Yeah. But in the meantime it’s also fun because there’s a lot of creativity here, a lot of cool ideas and the conversations that happen here are fascinating. 

Dale: That’s great. Thanks Tim and best of luck. 

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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