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Interview: Creative England Live 2016 Showcasing Company MakerClub on the Future of 3D Printing

There's just under a week to go until 'Creative England Live 2016: Catalyse' takes over Google's London HQ to showcase the very best in UK creativity. 

Joining our eclectic group of industry speakers on the day will be a trio of Creative England supported companies who will be on hand to showcase their tech and expertise to those in attendance. One such company is MakerClub, a Brighton based tech SME that specialises in making 3D printing accessible to anyone and everyone; a admirable goal that helped them become the UK winners of this year's Creative Business Cup.

We caught up with company CMO Declan Cassidy to find out more about how the marriage of 3D printing and education can improve the UK's creative sector, hear his advice for small companies working with big brands and see what MakerClub have planned for 'Creative England Live 2016: Catalyse'.

Hi Declan, could you give a brief history of MakerClub?

MakerClub was founded by, Simon Riley in early 2014 as a way to get more young people into coding and 3D design. Simon completed his masters in computing and engineering in 2005, he then went on to work for ebay and Experian. Having come from a family of teachers, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the way coding was taught in schools and didn’t understand why emerging technologies like 3D printing were being ignored. He started MakerClub to do something about it.

We’re currently based in Brighton, a culturally rich and creative city to work in. We were lucky enough to take part in a small accelerator experiment that put us together with 13 other local start-ups. It was called FuseBox24 and had the goal of fusing art and business to help speed up product development, giving us 8 months of free workspace and a bunch of great mentors. After successfully completing 2 crowdfunding campaigns, we received over £200k in R&D funding from InnovateUK, Nominet and the UFI Trust. We now employ 4 full time staff and plan to release our first range of products in March 2016.

What can you tell us about the service you provide?

We have created an advanced e-learning platform that teaches you how to code, design and build connected products from scratch. Users are delivered all the electronics they need in the post and are then given access to a tailored learning pathway. Here, they are taught 3D design through Autodesk 360, how to code in C+ and  how to connect it all to the internet through a mobile device. 

What gap in the market did you identify that you aimed to fill?

You could hardly miss the meteoric rise of 3D printing into mainstream culture over the last couple of years, so we knew we wanted to be part of that first wave. We knew that there was a load of people out there that either wanted to buy a 3D printer or had one and didn’t know what to do with it.

Our solution was to give them a place where they could learn the magic of 3D design and print, but also coding and electronics to bring their creations to life.  MakerClub is a launchpad into a much wider world that uses hardware and the latest e-learning tech to create a uniquely holistic educational experience.   

What opportunities does 3D printing open up to consumers and brands?

The ability for anyone to create their own inventions and products is revolutionary. It empowers anyone to take control and reshape to the world around them.  The technology is already being put to use in the commercial industries, but it’s in individual customisation that we see the most important advances being made. It will change everything.

A big part of the MakerClub ethos is teaching – how does your product facilitate this?

The MakerClub platform has been created with academics like David Gauntlet, author of Making is Connecting and organisations such as Nominet and the National Institute for Adult Continued Education (NIACE). Our real world robotics products support an advanced e-learning platform that teaches coding, through interactive lesson much like codecademy, high quality video and professional level design tools

How did you hear about Creative England and what made you want to get involved?

We were introduced to Creative England’s Chairman, John Newbigin at an event celebrating the Fusebox 24 business accelerator we were on. John was the main speaker and Simon struck up a conversation with him afterwards. We’ve been working together ever since on a range of projects.

Creative England is an incredible resource to any UK company that wants to take their business to the next level. We wanted to create a company that helped develop people’s creative technology skills, so Creative England were the perfect fit. 

How has your company benefited from this partnership?

We were introduced to the Creative Business Cup, which we went on to win in the UK heats (right). This has led to meetings with LEGO and us winning a bid to help transform a Norwegian town into a ‘capital of play’. We are also now part of the CE50 2016.

How useful have you found the introductions to big companies?

Very useful. For a small start-up like us, these introductions are so important, just getting your face and company name out there can be half the battle sometimes. Just being associated with Creative England has given our company a credibility that we would have found hard to achieve on our own.  

What advice do you have for other emerging SMEs who are looking for support?

Speak to as many people in and out of your sector as possible and whatever you do, don’t be afraid of asking for help. When you’re a start-up and your company seems like it’s in the balance everyday, it can be hard to see your greatest asset. Simply put, you can afford to make mistakes and no one expects you to know everything. Use this to your advantage and ask for support, you’ll find that being honest about you and your company’s abilities will get you much further, much faster.

What advice do you have for small companies looking to work with big brands?

Stay true to your business and make sure you know what you want from them. You should know that big brands want what you have, ie. insight and speed. Use this to your advantage and don’t give too much away, at least until you’re happy that you’re getting what you want first.

The UK has a thriving creative industry – how important do you think it is to keep it at the top of its game?

Giving the UK creative sector a voice and a support network are integral to its continued success. That’s what Creative England does everyday. Without this, small companies and individuals would find it really hard to shout above the noise and great ideas would languish without funding. 

What will you be showcasing at Creative England Live?

We will be showcasing our 3D printed robotic arm and the basic bare bones of our learning platform.

How important do you feel events like Creative England Live are for emerging, regional companies looking for support?

It’s a great opportunity for those in the area to meet and learn from each other, as well as get valuable advice from larger companies who’ve seen it all before! You never know who you are going to meet, so keep an open mind and a wide smile!

To hear more about MakerClub's experience at the Creative Business Cup final in Copenhagen, read their guest blog. Head here to hear fellow Creative England Live 2016 showcasing company, Braci, discuss the formation of their 'Smart Ear' healthcare app

Find out more about 'Creative England Live 2016: Catalyse' by visiting our hub page and using the hashtag #CELive2016 to join the conversation on Twitter.

  • Creative Business Cup
  • CE Live 2016
  • Business Support