Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Kyoto Makers GarageKyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Kyoto Makers Garage
Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 is documenting the Kyoto startup scene through a series of articles and videos by the following members of the KYOTO Design Lab and interns from the University of Texas.
Makerspace Where Ideas Develop into Working Prototypes
Hardware development is difficult, time consuming, and for many, a path too cumbersome to venture down. Wanting to bridge the gap between idea and product, Makers Boot Camp, a hardware venture capital firm, created Kyoto Makers Garage which opened in September of 2017. The fab space is a joint collaboration with Kyoto Research Park, a regional development catalyst and the Advance Science, Technology & Management Research Institute of Kyoto (ASTEM).
Located in an industrial neighborhood nearby the city’s central food market, KMG may be easy to overlook, but its modern design and bright pink neon sign make the space welcoming. The makerspace, a single room equipped with a small selection of machines including 3D printers, a CNC milling machine, and a laser cutter provides a unique, relaxed atmosphere where makers are encouraged to experiment, create, and be themselves. Machines can be reserved by the hour and as of writing, are free for students. Training courses are offered for users to learn how to operate the machines safely. Makers, thinkers, and innovators from all backgrounds are more than welcome to come try their hands at creating a product uniquely their own.
Kyoto Makers Garage also functions as creative hub. Their regular Monozukuri Hub Meetups bring together local and international entrepreneurs with community members. With the cool vibe and energy of the garage, it’s easy to see how rewarding being a part of the growing community here can be. Kyoto Makers Garage is ultimately striving to help cultivate a diverse and inclusive community of makers and entrepreneurs within the budding Kyoto startup ecosystem. In the future, the garage hopes to acquire more space in the area to expand not only the size but its capability and functionality.
To learn more about Kyoto Makers Garage, we talked to Connor Kirk, the manager at Kyoto Makers Garage. He was involved from the inception of the space, assisting in its planning as well as choosing the garage’s tools. He currently runs the training courses.
What was the initial idea when creating KMG?
Connor: I wanted to make a space that was a bit more loose so people who were doing DIY projects and making things could have a space to come and work in a more relaxed environment where they are free to experiment. That’s sorta like the environment I tried to create here so users can come and just do whatever weird stuff they wanna do. There’s a guy who comes here and 3D prints slugs and he’s been working on his slug design for a while. I don’t ask questions. That’s just an example of how I wanted this space to be really relaxed, open, and not very strict. As you can see it’s kind of a mess, but that’s because people are making things, it’s not a museum.
What does collaboration mean to the makers garage and how do you facilitate this?
Connor: I’ve done some interesting collaborations in the past couple of months. Specifically with the Goethe Institute, the German institute in Kyoto. It’s like an artist residency so German artists come and stay there for 3 months at a time and come and work on a project while they’re in Kyoto. We’ve sort of established a collaborative relationship with them where artists who want to make something can come here and work with me to make it happen. I love when people come in the door and say “Hey I wanna build this” and it’s something I never would have thought of on my own.
How do you hope Kyoto Makers Garage will scale up in the future?
Connor: We have a plan to do some minor scaling in the next couple of months if things work out with these funds that we’re applying for. If we do get the funds, this meeting room over here is going to be renovated and turned into a CNC Room. I’d like to expand the space and expand the amount of things that users can do. It would be great to have a woodshop, a metal working shop, a molding room for doing silicon molding, but right now we just don’t have the space. So in the future I would like to figure out ways to acquire more space in this area.
What is a common problem/challenge you see makers face here?
Connor: I think people have unreasonable expectations of 3D printers. Some people want to print tiny detailed things on them and I always have to explain that printers can make a lot of things but there’s also a lot of limitations. Also I wish I saw more mixing of tools. A lot of people just want to make something all on one machine. When I do projects I usually end up using all the tools here because there are certain things that are better on the laser cutter or the 3D printer.
Did you have any advice for young entrepreneurs or anyone who comes to Kyoto Makers Garage, in the process of creating their products?
Connor: Fail fast, Fail cheap. That’s a good model I hear sometimes. Don’t waste a lot of time and money on your first attempt at something. Do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible and learn from those mistakes. Keep doing small iterations. It really does make the design and refinement process so much smoother when you allow yourself to have multiple versions of something and fail several times before you start getting to something that is what you really wanted from the beginning.
Do you have any advice for future founders, entrepreneurs, or anyone coming to the makers space, before they begin to venture into the Kyoto Area?
Connor: Go to events. Get on Facebook and find some events. Find the ones you think are interesting and go to them, meet people. The community here is pretty close knit and if you go to artistic, cultural, entrepreneurial type events, you’re gonna keep running into the same people over and over again. People say this all the time but Japan is all about connections, and it really is true. So if you’re trying to get into the scene in Kyoto, I would recommend going to workshops and events to meet the people who are really active in Kyoto.
Check out Kyoto Makers Garage here