One of the coolest aspects of working as an intern for the Fund for Our Economic Future has been the numerous opportunities to gain up-close and personal insight into not only the philanthropic organizations working to promote Growth & Opportunity in Northeast Ohio, but also the innovative companies and collectives driving economic competitiveness in the region. In the most exciting cases, such as with America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and its partner the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), I’ve been lucky enough to see firsthand how Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurs and manufacturers are bringing the region to the forefront of next generation industry, and building a fundamental connection to the Main Street and global economies.
America Makes and YBI recently invited the entire staff of the Fund to their downtown Youngstown headquarters for a tour of their facilities and an in-depth look at their early successes, ongoing challenges and promising future. We began our tour in America Makes’ Maker Space, a collaborative workshop of sorts filled with high-tech 3-D printers, lasers, lathes, and all manner of equipment used for additive manufacturing. These tools are all available for use by any one of America Makes’ more than 140 member organizations nationwide (including several Fortune 1000 manufacturing firms), as well as local university students through various programs.
Members and students use this space and America Makes’ other resources, to make the most of applied research and development (R&D) funding, leverage their shared knowledge and resources to create and accelerate time-to-market of new technological and materials breakthroughs, and build a globally competitive network of collaborative innovators. The evidence of that resource-sharing and innovation was all around us. Every surface not occupied by high-tech manufacturing equipment displayed the fruits of America Makes’ labor; everything from abstract polymer sculptures and household implements, to next-generation aluminum and titanium building materials and aircraft parts, and even the exhaust for an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. All were designed through collaborative effort using innovative additive manufacturing and 3-D printing.
We also got a look inside the operations of the Youngstown Business Incubator. There, we heard from local entrepreneurship leaders, including Chief Evangelist and Entrepreneur in Residence James W. Cossler and Chief Operations Officer Barb Ewing about YBI’s work with America Makes and technology entrepreneurs throughout the region to foster the kind of environment where such entrepreneurship and next-generation manufacturing can not only survive, but thrive.
They aim to do so by creating a peer network of entrepreneurs to work hand-in-hand with America Make’s innovation network. Their goal is to work together on commercialization and scale-up operations of additive manufacturing firms, and connect those firms with the infrastructure and funding necessary to foster a new technology manufacturing boom in the region. They call this strategy the “Managed Cluster,” and by all accounts it seems to be the beginning of huge and exciting industry changes.
Opportunities like this for a snapshot of the newest, most exciting trends in entrepreneurship and economic development are exactly what I hoped to experience in working for the Fund for Our Economic Future. Gaining insight into such organizations as America Makes and YBI this summer has done much more than give me hope for the future of Northeast Ohio’s economy—in fact, I can’t wait to see what happens next.