The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation hosted Anchorage’s first-ever Mini Maker Faire at the Loussac Library on Saturday, July 27th. The Maker Faire is a gathering of crafters, engineers, and tinkerers launched in California in 2006 and now taking place in cities across the world. The AEDC hopes the Faire will help boost innovation and industry across Alaska.
“A pulse engine is an engine with no moving parts, built entirely from the physical principle of thermodynamics, if I understand it correctly…”
Homemade engines, robots that toss Frisbees, and sculptures that shoot flames are some of the more colorful displays at Anchorage’s first Mini Maker Faire.
Anchorage Economic Development Corporation vice president Jon Bittner helped spearhead the event — which may be a little hard to define for the uninitiated.
“It’s not a science fair, it’s not a farmer’s market,” Bittner says. “It’s a showcase for all the amazing and innovative and creative things that people do in their spare time that they’re so good at and want to share with the community.”
Things like an Eiffel Tower made of cardboard or an interactive instrument called a “slapophone,” for instance. This weekend’s Maker Faire also marked the launch of Alaska Entrepreneurship Week, a statewide event put on by AEDC that runs through August 4th. Bittner says it’s all part of the organization’s effort to reach Alaska’s entrepreneurs and innovators.
“What we found was a lot of people were doing amazing things but they were doing them by themselves,” Bittner says. “They didn’t know that other people were also working on really interesting projects. So, what we realized was Anchorage and Alaska don’t have an entrepreneurship problem, we have a community problem. So we set out to really create a startup community through events like this and the Alaska Hackathon and other such events during Entrepreneurship Week.”
The third Alaska Hackathon takes place on August 3rd and 4th at a new collaborative art space called Anchorage Community Works. It brings together computer programmers and web developers to work on data projects for nonprofit and government agencies. Bittner says he hopes events like the Maker Faire and the Hackathon will help grow a budding technology industry in Anchorage and beyond.
“We thought that it would be almost impossible to do tech industry and manufacturing here in Alaska; that’s sort of the traditional wisdom,” he says. “But realistically, these people are out there doing it every day. The Hackathons have been wildly successful — 30, 40, 50 coders come out all the time. It’s all doable, it’s just we just have to recognize what’s going on in our community and the potential.”
The Faire’s dozen presenters included Justin Renfro, a business development manager for KivaZip, a new project at Kiva, a microlending site that helps individual lenders connect with entrepreneurs. KivaZip recently partnered with AEDC and several other groups in Alaska to help find and fund startups across the state. Renfro says Alaska is primed to get this kind of thing going.
“Alaska has more lenders per capita on Kiva than any other state in the entire country,” Renfro says. “So it’s clearly a place where there’s a strong community, there’s a lot of entrepreneurship, and there’s a huge need for a program like KivaZip to help all of these entrepreneurs and small business owners grow and start and we want to just foster that.”
Other events during Alaska Entrepreneurship Week include a programming workshop and several opportunities for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to investors.