History of “Maker City” Burlington

World Maker Faire 2011

Reinventing Science Logo

Who knew Harris-Educational Reinventing Science Kits would spawn the Maker Movement in Burlington?

Bennett Harris was invited to exhibit his hand-made Reinventing Science Kits at the 2011 World Maker Faire in San Mateo California. Leaving for California with his nephew Brian Byrd as a helper, Bennett thought he was headed a trade show event and was hoping to sell enough kits to justify the travel costs of taking them across the country for a few days. Once at the Maker Faire Bennett’s mind was blown away. Over 100,000 people came to the State Fairgrounds for two days to share ideas, enjoy artwork, get hands-on, check out new small businesses, learn from each other, and promote STEM Education. 2011 was the year of the Great Makerspace Challenge and Bennett met many people from makerspaces from all over the country.

Bennett lost his voice! After two days Bennett and Brian had seemingly talked to all all 100K people in attendance. On the plane ride back to Burlington Bennett’s mind was racing… how could he bring this energy back to Burlington? The Maker Movement was unknown to him before the trip. Now he was a Maker and realized the power the Maker Movement had for bringing together communities, creating new 21st century jobs, and enhancing hands-on and STEM Education. All things that Burlington needs!

Maker Faire North Carolina

A month later Bennett and Brian were at it again, this time exhibiting at the second Maker Faire North Carolina event in Raleigh. They had a sign at the booth, “If you are from Alamance County Please Say Hi.” Two people did, John Linville and Angi Parrish. After returning home Bennett, John, and Angi got together (always during periods of bad weather it seems) to brainstorm on how we might build a Makerspace here in our community.

Makerspace in Burlington?

At the time it wasn’t clear if a makerspace was viable for Burlington. Paying rent, insurance, buying equipment, all takes money and time and requires membership dues. The big question… were there enough “Makers” here (or people who would realize that they were makers) to support the idea? Instead of rushing into a building we decided to start off as a Maker Community. Bennett took time and invested time and money into starting Alamance Makers Guild.

Alamance Makers Guild

AMG-groupWe built a facebook page, a meetup group, designed a logo and started to have meetings. Thanks to a connection to our local Sylvan Learning Center we found a regular place to meet and we were able to schedule speakers, and started to advertise the meetings. We attracted local makers and our meetings grew from the original three, to up to 50 regulars! In five years we’ve held over 140 public facing events!

The Guild was growing, but the growth was slow. Bennett was on the Make mailing list and knew about a the program for Mini Maker Faires in smaller communities, which started thanks to the success of experiments like Maker Faire North Carolina in Raleigh. In less than three months we worked together and produced the first ever Burlington Mini Maker Faire in 2012.

Burlington Mini Maker Faire

Burlington_MMF_logos_logoThe first ever Burlington Mini Maker Faire had 25 exhibits and brought in a crowd of 1,200 folks.

It allowed us meet more local and NC makers, and attracted Ilsa Spaan to the Makers Guild. Ilsa is a graphic designer and wanted to get involved to help with the graphical needs of the maker cause including programs, signs, flyers, website and social media. She has supported most all of the local maker events. Also, as a result of Burlington Mini Maker Faire, Danny Oakley began to attend our meetings with an interest in Arduino, programming, cars, 3D printing and robotics. He became a volunteer for Alamance Makers Guild events, including the Burlington Mini Maker Faire. Ilsa and Danny are now co-producers of the Maker Faire and partners in STEAM Junction.

The 5th annual Burlington Mini Maker Faire has come and gone, and has grown to nearly 100 exhibits featuring 300+ exhibitors, and brought in a crowd of 4,700 people!

The White House and National Maker Faire

During the spring of 2014, The White House announced it was going to host the first ever White House Maker Faire. Bennett was nominated to attend, for his Reinventing Science Kits and for the work he was doing in Burlington and Alamance County to build a Maker Community. He was invited as an “Honored Maker Attendee,” one of about 25 people asked be present as the President spoke about the Maker Movement, and to visit with the Exhibiting Makers who were showing off their projects. He also received an invitation for two to a Maker Summit that was to be held the day before at the grand opening of the Tech Shop in Arlington VA.

Bennett and Danny headed to the Maker Summit in Washington and learned the results of the Maker Impact Study, sharing the room with the CEO of Intel, leaders from universities, the founder of Tech Shop, the founders of Make Magazine and Maker Faire, and a host of other amazing figures in this growing Maker Movement. Then, off to the White House for Bennett, where he met folks like Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and listened attentively to this speech by President Obama about the Maker Movement:

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Promoting STEM in Burlington

Upon returning to Burlington, Alamance Makers Guild continued to grow, now attracting Tiffany Ehmig from Blessed Sacrament School of Burlington which was building a new STEM program called STREAM. She was looking for community support, networking, and opportunities for their students and teachers.

We worked with the school on a project to build Near Space Balloons that were launched from the 2015 Burlington Mini Maker Faire, traveled to 89,000 feet, and were collected 135 miles away with scientific data intact.

This partnership would help Blessed Sacrament School acheive recognition as a “STEM School of Distinction at the Model Level K-8″ by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

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Burlington, Maker City

Growth still continued and all of this activity came together in the first ever Alamance County Maker Roundtable in 2015. With the help of Alamance Makers Guild, Burlington, NC is now a “Maker City” recognized by the White House through the Manufacturing Alliance of Communities, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Guild has worked with Alamance Burlington School System, Elon University, Alamance Community College, the Library System, Small Businesses, and more. We’ve been back to the White House for maker summits and events and have participate in a total of 25 Maker Faires, including the National Maker Faire.

All this, and we still needed a building to make our Makerspace a reality. In December last year Bennett was set to meet Ilsa and others at The Blend coffee shop in Downtown Burlington, for a meeting about funding for the Burlington Mini Maker Faire. He was running late after a successful speech to a group of business folks and retirees and almost skipped going to the tail end of this meeting. While there Julie Budd (volunteer and fund raiser) saw Wellsley Robinson, a developer and property owner who was renovating several historic properties in Downtown Burlington….and thats all I can write tonight… more later!