The advantages—and at times the dangers—of living in a city like London is that one tends to take for granted the existence of organisations such as Makerversity. As Londoners, we often assume that having access to co-working spaces that provide a gateway to a network of like-minded creators turning moonshot ideas into businesses is a given. But let me tell you: it is not. After spending some time digging into Makerversity’s website—I have spent hours indulging in inspiring projects that are being developed under the motherly support of Makerversity—and speaking with the organisation’s Community Manager, Esther Ellard, I’ve realised the immeasurable privilege that is having a space such as Makerversity in the city.
It’s hard to describe Makerversity as a ‘place’ without undermining its concept, which goes far beyond being a physical building where creators, designers, and startups have access to workshops. To be more accurate, I would describe Makerversity as an environment where new-born projects have the possibility to grow, fed by a creative ecosystem that nourishes companies from infanthood to independence. In an attempt to define Makerversity, I realised that incubator might just be the apt word I am looking for.
Residing within the basement of the prestigious Somerset House—with a second Makerversity branch in Amsterdam—the 250 members currently working on site are surrounded by a cultural powerhouse that, as suggested by Esther, plays a crucial role in inspiring their work. “If you want to make a connection with someone in law to talk about intellectual property for your product, there will be someone in this building that is doing that, and we can connect you up with them.” Esther tells me. “There is a culture of sharing, and there is a strong community feeling, so people are generally really happy to grab a coffee and share their knowledge or run a little session.” Ideas need a solid support network in order to be developed, and as Esther makes clear during our conversation, that’s exactly what informs Makerversity’s success.
At Somerset House, the high 18th century ceilings, designed by Sir William Chambers, are constantly in dialogue with the innovation pouring out of Makerversity’s underground web. In an encounter that confirms the common perception that working together is always better than working alone, the mash-up of businesses and arts that blend at Makerversity make sure that an exchange of knowledge and resources is constantly taking place. And with that, young entrepreneurs who are at the beginning stages of their business are able to learn from fellow members who are already running full-time companies.
Looking at the successes achieved by Makerversity in such a short period of time, it’s hard to believe that it was only founded in 2013 by a group of four frustrated designers who were struggling to find a space that is both accessible and stimulating to work in. Five years on, the force behind Makerversity’s vision can be attributed to this frustration. From the will to find the right habitat where their ideas can be bred, Andy, Joe, Paul and Tom, found themselves running a 2000 sq meter space where fellow makers are inventing new approaches to problem-solving, aesthetics, technology and politics.
The variety of companies currently residing inside the basement of Somerset House is wide and diverse. Pan Studio for instance is creating unique experiences at the intersection of technology, theatre, games and art. One of their most recent projects—that I personally believe is foreseeing our urban hyper connected future—is Hello Lamp Post, a human-centric engagement platform that invites people to start conversations with familiar street furniture and urban infrastructure through their mobile phones. Hello Lamp Post is a playful device that adds a digital mnemonic layer to the city.
And while Pan Studio works towards bridging the gap between people and their built environment, ‘small agency with big ambitions’ Mettle, often designs products that help people better navigate their environment. One of Mettle’s unique aspects is that it often develops its products based on the requests of individual needs and requirements. Breadcrumbs for example is an app built in collaboration with Ruby Steel and Big Life Fix Team, built specifically for a visually impaired woman, allowing her independence and control by registering obstacles such as a low wall or uneven pavement within her mobile phone map. Another is fashion brand ADAY, based between London and New York the company focuses on making the clothing of the future with their motto always in mind: the simpler the better. Sustainability is at the core of their ethos, and the technical fabrics utilised by ADAY’s designers are breathable and sweat-wicking. In a few simple words, ADAY wants to make our wardrobe smarter and multifunctional.
Another young company to note is Humanising Autonomy, currently on a mission to better understand pedestrian behaviour in order to inform autonomous vehicle decision-making. Humanising Autonomy is convinced that pedestrians and drivers have different behaviours according to their culture, and how can we disagree with that? By using deep learning machine technology, together with cultural behavioural studies, Humanising Autonomy is set to humanise one of the biggest technological advancements set to take place in the next decade: self driving cars.
From human-centric products that improve the communication between us and machine, to playful and interactive devices that could simplify the lives of many, Makerversity is the place where the physical and digital realities of the future are being shaped. While the buzzing city of London does at times feel like a high pressure pot, with inflating living prices and competition that is skyrocketing, we should celebrate places that support the work of those who will—with their inventions—potentially make the world a better place.
Makerversity provides its members the tools and the space to build their devices, but what I was left with after my chat with Esther, is that Makerversity isn’t just a mere incubator of products: it is an incubator of ideas. And to nurture ideas worth developing, makers need more than just four walls and a bunch of machines, they need a like-minded community that is keen to share its knowledge and resources. And that, is something we should never take for granted.