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Built In Chicago

The non-profit group Built In Chicago analyzed data from 2011 and found that it was a big, big year for web-based startups in the city.

128 new companies launched last year, and the total amount of new capital raised by web-based companies in Chicago was up 431 percent.  A hefty chunk of that increase came from Groupon. But even excluding the coupon giant, funding of Chicago’s web startups was up 75.8 percent.

UPDATE: Maria Katris, Executive Director of Built In Chicago, estimates in an email to us that the the 128 businesses launched last year created 700-1,000 jobs. And the digital sector as a whole is responsible for 25,000 – 30,000+ jobs for the Chicago area. Built In Chicago also looks at the top 50 digital companies in the Windy City and finds that they’ve created more than 11,500 jobs.

And there are signs that Chicagoans are preparing for some long-term growth in this area. We told you last month about 1871, a new 50,000 square foot startup tech center in Chicago. And companies from other parts of the country are starting to take notice of Chicago’s tech talent, particularly in the sales and marketing world.

Katris says she expects further growth in the coming years. She tells us:

In 2011, a new startup launched every third day.  We predict you will see a new startup launching every other day in 2012, and every day in 2013.

Venture Capitalist, entrepreneur and blogger Brad Feld highlighted Chicago’s startup activity in a blog post yesterday.

Feld said what’s happening in Chicago “is a great example of what happens when entrepreneurs take a long term view to building their startup community.”

Some good – but not great – news for northeast Ohio. Our partner station Ideastream reports today that a glitch in a reporting system led to an overly optimistic April home sales report. Revised numbers still show a 4.6 percent increase in sales from March.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped substantially in April and now ranks below the national average, according to Crain’s Cleveland. More than 100,000 have returned to the workforce over the past year across the state.

Also in Ohio, American Greetings will move its headquarters from Brooklyn 13 miles west to Westlake, reports The Plain Dealer. And the merger of AirTran and Southwest could mean fewer flight operations at the Akron-Canton Airport.

Elsewhere across the Midwest today: says the University of Chicago’s new $81 million library is more than an architectural feat. It’s a glimpse of the future for libraries, a topic that Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo examined earlier this month.

Does Michigan’s new tax structure make fiscal sense? Michigan Radio received an answer to that question from Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University professor and author of “Michigan’s Economic Future.”

Caterpillar CFO Edward Rapp says the U.S. economy is ready to lift off, but that businesses need better direction from the government on upcoming policy developments before investing, according to the Associated Press.

Elmore Leonard, via Media Bistro

A movie based on a novel from author Elmore Leonard, a Detroit native, will be filmed in Michigan after being awarded $2.8 million in state tax credits. “Freaky Deaky” is the 14th of Leonard’s books to be turned into a movie, but the first to be filmed in his home state.

In Part I, I told you about the emergence of the first killer app of open fabrication (formerly known as open source digital fabrication).

In Part II, I showed you that it works.

Now, Part III – Cliché Time

The train has left the station. It’s Game On!

Though leaves are falling and that Arctic wind is close…things just get hotter and hotter…

Now, a mere three months removed from Part II, not only am I using my open source 3d printers to print 3d objects, I’m also manufacturing parts to improve these machines and I’m shipping these parts all over the world.

And, there is a good article (with a silly title) and accompanying video on the WSJ homepage today about the resurgence of Making. (If you watch the video intro carefully you’ll even see MakerGear whiz by) From first print to WSJ cameo in three months…it’s happening, happening fast and happening everywhere. Well, except for Cleveland…

Where have all the makers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the makers gone
Long time ago…

Maybe we can start to change this at Cleveland Startup Weekend. I have one more ticket to the event and I’d like to take a local maker. Let’s spark a local resurgence…tap into this wave of innovative energy…Surfs Up, Dude.

Let me know if you want to Hang Five at #SWCLE.

Press play to hear the Hawaii Five-0 theme.


Looking forward to Startup Weekend Cleveland Nov. 20-22. It is going to be a fun-can-do-action-packed event. Get your tixs:

Can’t make the whole event? Buy a Sunday Night Demo Ticket for only $20 and join us Sunday evening around 5pm for drinks and final presentations.

“Shields imagines a day when the Botanical Garden and the city collaborate on an urban farm with a large-scale composting facility and an all-season greenhouse that operates with renewable energy.”

Growing more than food in inner city | GreenCityBlueLake

Part I is here.

A month ago I posted about the revolution in digital fabrication and the emergence of the first killer app…the MakerBot Cupcake desktop CNC machine…

Printer with ABS plastic

My Bot constructed from 50 year old douglas fir plywood.

Under $1,000 for the complete 3d printer kit including print material – easy to assemble, totally open source, customizable, out-pacing demand, a win on many levels…and…

Pulley printed in ABS plastic

A pulley it printed.

…it works!!

Run to the light, Carol Anne. Run as fast as you can!

Recent Fast Company article on Desktop Manufacturing

The challenge was to design and build a set of salt and pepper shakers in one day. Good Stuff!

See the MakerBot desktop $750 3d printer in action, what a hackerspace is like, a glimpse of desktop rapid development and how fun it all is…

Cupcake 3d Printer

MakerBot Cupcake 3d Printer

Before getting into the substance of the post, here is a quick explanation of digital fabrication:

Digital Fabrication is the capability to take a digital representation of a concept (e.g. a picture in Photoshop, a vector illustration in CorelDraw, or a 3D model in Blender) and, use digital fabrication equipment (laser cutters, 3d printers, desktop CNC mills, etc) to translate that concept into a physical object. You could, for example, design a display case in CorelDraw, send the design to a laser cutter and precisely cut the pieces in wood and acrylic. A detailed explanation of Digital Fabrication (aka fabbing, rapid prototyping, desktop manufacturing, personal fabrication, etc) can be found [here]. (Oops. Surprisingly, I was not able to find a solid, detailed explanation of digital fabrication – including Wikipedia – guess I’ll work on that next.) An interesting primer on fabbing is here.
Though Digital Fabrication has been around for years the equipment has been cost prohibitive for the maker community (individuals and small groups of geeks, needs, hackers, crafters, artists, small businesses, etc. – reminds of that line from the office secretary in Ferris Bueller). Fab Labs are great but the laser cutter in a Fab Lab costs over $15,000, the 3D printer costs $30,000 plus (over-priced) materials and the ShopBot is another $15,000. Using open source and low-cost fabrication equipment it is now possible to set up a functional Home or Small Business Fab Lab equivalent for as little as $5,000 (desktop – laser cutter, 3d printer, cnc mill plus computer w/ software) and this price will likely continue to drop in part due to projects like Cupcake .

It is really not possible to overstate the significance of bringing digital fabrication equipment to the desktop (desktop = small & affordable) – you can (or, in the near future, will be able to) take your concept and quickly Design, Test, and Build (DTB) it (short production runs, at least). In other words, if you have an idea for a product and you have the know-how to create your product; lack of capital won’t be your road block or your excuse for not getting it done. Historically if you wanted to create a product you needed to find a design firm with the necessary technology to create your prototype ($$). Then, once you have the prototype you need to find a manufacturer to actually build your product ($$$) – setup fees, minimum quantity requirements, etc. meant significant up-front capital without really knowing whether the product is viable. When all was said and done, you were probably looking at a year or more of preparations, design, manufacturing and out-of-pocket costs. While this process is not going to change overnight, low-cost and open source digital fabrication opens the door to rapid product development for the masses. Once you have an actual – physical, tangible and working – product you can actually determine whether people want to buy it or if it is viable for whatever purpose you have in mind. Once you’ve demonstrated that your product is viable then it may make sense to make the investment to hire a design firm to improve your design or a manufacturer to scale/reduce the cost of your production – but this takes place after you’ve proven product viability. This ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ model is common for web (software) startups – get your product out quickly, find out if people want it, revise/abandon/improve it. Digital fabrication is kind of like the Golden Gate Bridge for product development – it gets you over the early, rough terrain quickly and inexpensively.

Cupcake is an open source CNC 3D Printer – you can source the parts yourself or purchase a complete kit for $750. Cupcake is a variant of the open source RepRap project and utilizes the Sanguino variant of the open source Arduino project. That is probably more detail than necessary but – in other words – Cupcake is at the bleeding edge of open source digital fabrication. Though the current iteration of Cupcake is not ready for industrial use it is important for several reasons:

  1. It is a real 3d printer – you can design objects using the 3D modeling program of your choice Sketchup, AutoCad, Blender, etc. and produce tangible 3D objects. The skills learned working with Cupcake are directly transferable to higher end digital fabrication equipment.
  2. It is completely open source – you can modify the physical shape, the software, the extruder, any aspect of it, to suit your needs or as an educational exercise. Cupcake can not only print using ABS plastic (the plastic of Lego bricks) it can also print cupcake frosting (hence the name). Here is a recent video of Cupcake performing on the Jimmy Fallon show. (there is a link to the video in the comments section)
  3. Because Cupcake is useful, fun, hackable and affordable (but not yet industrial caliber) it is what I’d classify as a social technology. Makers will be drawn to it not only for educational purposes but for social purposes – Maker Parties – where people hang out, drink beer, wine, pop, chat and make stuff. Think Pampered Chef for geeks. In the process an army of makers will get exposed to the possibilities opened though digital fabrication and they will get trained on how to actually use the stuff. Fun plus education = killer app.
  4. Within two years Cupcake (or a variant) will be mature enough for industrial use.

In other words, Cupcake is practical, educational and most importantly, fun. Cupcake (or a variant) will be the first killer app and the by-product will be a large contingent of trained fabbers. Though I’m a fan of Fab Labs they are too expensive to have the same type of pervasive impact.  I’ve ordered most of the electronic and mechanical parts and I’m laser cutting the housing using materials of my choice (antique 1/4″ plywood in this case).  I was hoping to have my printer up and running in time for Ingenuity but with parts back-ordered (due to surging popularity) and such, I don’t see it happening. Instead, I’m offering to run a Cupcake “class” where interested parties can gather, learn the essential skills (soldering, installing a bootloader, etc). A complete Cupcake kit costs $750 (if you can get one) and has all the parts needed to build a functional printer. Modeling software to design the objects you want to print is available in commercial, educational and open source flavors, depending on your preference.  The class will be free (to audit) or have a nominal cost (for hands on) – materials and equipment will be provided and you don’t need to buy a Cupcake kit (but bring it if you have it).

Building Cupcake is a fairly involved process including assembling the frame and moving parts, the extruders (one for ABS plastic and one for cake frosting (really)), surface mount soldering, some programming, 3d modeling (to have something to actually print). But if you are interested in digital fabrication, rapid prototyping, 3d printing, etc., this is a great way to get involved. Depending on the level of interest, I will need to find a place for this to take place. Other cities have facilities for projects like this – there is TechShop in SF and Portland, the Resistor hackerspace in NY City, The Fuse Factory in Columbus, OH, Hack Pittburgh in Pittsburgh, AS220 in Providence, and I’ve read that a Techshop may open in Detroit. Cleveland is behind the curve here – one Fab Lab at a community college, an hour away, with restricted lab hours is not enough. A dedicated fabrication center – full of equipment (saws, lasers, 3d printers, CNC, electroplating, metal-forming, etc.) and offering frequent classes – would rock!

The 20th century saw the emergence of low-cost, home-use tools like table saws, band saws, and routers. In the 21st century the list will grow to include laser cutters, 3d printers, desktop CNC mills and yet to be determined precision digital machinery. The means of production is coming soon to your desktop…Get Ready!

A recent Financial Times article covered the DIY (Do It Yourself) culture and Cupcake!

Let me know if you are interested… If there is interest, I will follow-up with a time/date/etc  for the class.

Rick at makergear dot com

The Worst U.S. Cities to Work in IT – – Business Technology Leadership.