ANDREJ UREM IS BUILDING CANDLES THAT ARE DEFINITELY IN A NEW MOLD. Straying far from the traditional cylinder shape, they explore form and texture in intriguing directions—creating what the artist terms “livable art pieces.” His Kickstarter campaign seeks funds for a 3-D printer that will enable him to create more precise and complex molds for future designs. Backers are rewarded with their choice from his current line of candles.
THE MOST RECENT CREDIT CRUNCH began in 2008 and reportedly ended this summer. Remember those images of Lehman Brothers staff tossed to the sidewalk with their little boxes of belongings? In the months following, credit dried up and small businesses were starved for the financing needed for growth and hiring, laying the basis for a long grueling recession. But also within those same months—in April 2009—a small startup launched in Manhattan that has become the go-to funder for creative projects: Kickstarter was born. In the four years since its founding, Kickstarter has gone viral and raised pledges of more than $870 million in crowd-sourced funds from more than 5 million backers. (Like any good Internet company, it posts its stats online.)
The premise of Kickstarter is that entrepreneurs, artists, designers, musicians or filmmakers with ideas bigger than their bank accounts can launch a campaign on the Kickstarter site, set funding goals (which can grow over time) and deadlines, provide incentives to investors for various funding levels, and generally plead their case to gain followers (think Facebook “likes” with dollar bills attached). The ideas flourish or languish, gaining financing or not in a mysterious financial Darwinism. Some projects blow past their target budgets by tens of thousands of dollars, while others fizzle out despite their merit.
Given the power of Kickstarter for small creative inventors, makers and producers, Brooklyn Artisan will be covering it as a financial and manufacturing beat, highlighting the notable, successful, hopeful, and even the occasional noble-yet-doomed project. As well, we will provide advice, tips, strategies and tactics to aid in successful campaigns.
Brooklyn is certainly well represented, with more than 2,000 projects currently raising funds, more than double the number of projects coming out of London, for example. To look for promising projects or to make sure your investments stay in borough, Kickstarter provides city-based discovery.
Today, we’re highlighting two projects. The first, by Greenpoint-based Owen & Fred, is a series of bags (above) that is tantalizingly near to reaching the $45,000 campaign goal. The bags are promised to be durable, sustainable, meticulously detailed and U.S. made. One nice touch is the inspirational quotes screen-printed on the inside, for your eyes only.
Sogi’s Honey Bakeshop (picture at top of post) set less ambitious goals: raise $6,500 to buy supplies and a bigger mixer to aid the creation of the hand-painted cookies that have already attracted the attention of Martha Stewart Weddings and are popular on Etsy. Happily, baker Sogoal Zolghadri has raised the money and then some.
It can be a lot of work and planning to produce a campaign that meets or surpasses its goal. Kickstarter itself provides some basic tools and information to get you started. But who knows—next time there is a big shakeup in the financial world, those staffers might be seen shlepping their belongings in one of your Brooklyn-produced duffel bags.
WHAT’S IT TAKE TO TRY TO MAKE IT AS A SMALL FOOD MANUFACTURER in New York City? That was the theme of a panel discussion last Tuesday at Leonard Lopate’s popular annual event series about the New York food scene. Three entrepreneurs came together with the broadcaster at WNYC’s Greene Space in Manhattan: Steve Hindy, cofounder of Brooklyn Brewery, Mark Rosen, a family member from the second of three generations making Sabrett hot dogs, and Anna Wolf, founder/owner of My Friend’s Mustard.
The evening’s conversation frequently circled back to two pressing issues: distribution and struggles finding the right space to work in. Here are some snippets from the conversation:
How’d they get started?
Anna Wolf began making beer mustard as a hobby “for fun, shopping it out at the favorite watering hole,” she said. ‘You’ve gotta’ try my friend’s mustard,’ the bar owner would tell his customers. Hence the name. “He became my partner. We did a Kickstarter campaign. I made my first kitchen batches in March 2009, and we delivered them to the first six customers in his jeep.”
Steve Hindy was a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, where he worked in Beirut and Cairo for six years. It was in Cairo that he met American diplomats who were avid home brewers—a skill developed “out of necessity” when they were posted in Saudi Arabia. Hindy got interested. Back home in Brooklyn, he began to brew beer at home with his young downstairs neighbor Tom Potter, who had an MBA. They founded Brooklyn Brewery in 1987. “We raised $500,000 from colleagues and friends, but that wasn’t enough to build a brewery. We contracted out to a brewery in Utica and then trucked it down to an old warehouse in Bushwick. We went out in a van with our name on it and delivered to our first five customers.”
Mark Rosen is part of a family business started in 1926. Founder Gregory Papalexis, Rosen’s father-in-law, was the son of a baker who also had a hot dog business. Sabrett now manufactures 45 million pounds of frankfurters a year out of two plants in the Bronx, selling them up and down the east coast and wherever “New Yorkers are hiding out throughout the country,” said Rosen, but most visibly from pushcarts with the iconic blue and yellow umbrella all over New York City.
Their biggest challenges?
Hindy: “It took a lot longer to get licenses than we planned—six months instead of three—because NY State hadn’t approved a brewery in decades. There used to be 48 in Brooklyn alone, but the last one closed in 1976. To get approved, our investors had to reveal their deepest, darkest financial secrets, they had to be fingerprinted, which turned a lot of people off.” [Read more…]
WORLD MAKER FAIRE is a West Coast import that is becoming a huge event here every September. Now in its third annual appearance, the Faire this weekend drew massive crowds and it seems to have hit the city just at the crest of the “artisan” phenomenon.
Much of it is best described as “Geekstock,” with booth after booth of electronics gear and gadgets that whir, flash, beep, scuttle, fly, and roll. There were so many robot and science teams from MIT, Columbia, City Tech and other colleges and science high schools as well as random software and hardware aficionados packed into Flushing Meadow Park that for a few hours the average IQ per square foot must have spiked enormously. There were also squadrons of environmental activists, artists and craftspeople, and families dragging their kids around in hopes that enough science, math and engineering will seep in to improve the chance of admission in 12 years to the previously-mentioned elite schools.
Brooklyn was well represented among exhibitors and visitors, making it the ideal event for kicking off coverage of this very exciting part of the artisan movement, the convergence of science, engineering, art, and manufacturing that is best categorized as the “maker” movement.
3D printing is the hot technology right now, garnering extensive interest at the Makerbot space and at many other booths showing competing printers as well as materials, software and creative output. Bre Pettis, CEO of Makerbot and coverboy of Wired magazine’s current issue, was a star attraction at the Faire.
In coming months, Brooklyn Artisan will be covering 3D printing often as these products gain wider acceptance. At the Faire, there were clear signs that 3D has moved from the hobbyist stage. A few exhibitors in the craft area showed jewelry, small plastic vases, and even an espresso cup created using clay laid down in a printer and then fired in a kiln.
3D printing may be the cutting edge, but there were plenty of maker projects applying tech to old technologies. Brooklyn design consultancy Pensawas demonstrating a computer-driven wire bender they have been developing and releasing into the public domain. I would love some personalized wire coathangers!
Watch for more of my coverage of interesting high-, middle- and low-tech from World Maker Faire coming soon.