Most of the new business ideas I see are technology related to services, digital media or software. This trend should be expected since there are many great opportunities in these sectors. But I am beginning to feel like we have given up on making things. If this belief I have is true it is unfortunate for us as a society. We still buy things and the creation of things puts people to work and gives them a sense of accomplishment. The people employed are also not likely to find a comparable opportunity in the digital or service based markets. For these reasons I think we need to find and nurture the inventors in our society.
There is a substantial group of people who are garage tinkerers and basement inventors. Maybe they have seen something that could be done better and tried to build it. Often they just love to build and fix things without any real thought as to the immediate need or size of the market. That is a lot of ingenuity, energy and passion that could be put to use in building an entrepreneurial society.
There are other trends taking place that could magnify the impact of these inventors. Technology such as social media and ecommerce combined with 3D printing and other low tools make it possible to create distributed and low cost manufacturing. Build things where the markets are, customized to the needs of the buyer. Not everything needs to be mass produced.
The cost advantages in remote countries is also declining with rising wages, supply chain complexity and increased transportation costs. Interest is growing in the US in bringing production back from overseas. We need to make sure the same trends happen in Canada. But we won’t necessarily be bringing back the old model of large scale operations employing hundreds of people. We should leverage the new business models and home-grown ingenuity to create a new manufacturing industry.
The first step is to surface these garage inventors; find out who they are and engag them. From there we can work with them to build business models, fill in the gaps in their teams and provide support and financing. Instead of two or three plants employing hundreds of people maybe we have a number of plants that each employ 10 to 50 people. There would be less exposure from the failure of a single business and I suspect people would enjoy working in these smaller environments.