Oct. 5 2016 12:53 AM

Lansing Maker Week highlights builders, entrepreneurs, innovators

Cloudy skies cast a foreboding shadow over Okemos Saturday morning, but that didn’t dampen the spirits inside the Meridian Mall, where children gathered to learn about robotics, 3D printing, hacking and more.

“I thought that this was the perfect fun thing to do,” said Carly Patel, mother of two. “Especially on a rainy day.”

Gopi Shenoy watches as the Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards show his son how to wire Play-Doh to produce notes on a keyboard during Saturday’s Mini Maker Madness.
Courtesy Photo

Patel accompanied her two boys, ages 6 and 3, to Saturday’s Mini Maker Madness. The event, hosted by education-oriented children’s toy store tinkrLAB, stretched from Schuler Books & Music to J.C. Penney, filling the mall corridor with interactive activities. Booths offered everything from a life-sized replica of the Ghostbusters ECTO-1 car to a giant, interactive “Tetris” game.

“We’ve busted some toys apart, put them back together, checked out the 3D printers, made some buttons, and now we’re going to make a cotton ball launcher,” Patel said.

Mini Maker Madness kicked off Lansing Maker Week, a collection of events designed to highlight technology, innovation and do-it-yourself projects. Running through Saturday, the week includes activities like an open house at the East Lansing Public Library’s remodeled Maker Studio, an “apocalyptic punk” fashion show and local artist demonstrations. Mini Maker Madness was designed to connect young children with creative groups in Greater Lansing.

“Last year we were approached by Lansing Maker Week to put on the event for kids,” said Christopher Allen, co-founder of tinkrLAB. “We decided we wanted to offer things for other makers in the community to be able to come and showcase what they do and make it a free event for the family.”

The store, originally the brainchild of Allen’s wife, Melissa, focuses on toys and activities that teach children about technology and engineering. By helping children develop these skills early, Christopher Allen hopes to prepare them for an evolving job market.

“By the year 2020, there are going to be 1.8 million jobs in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math), and more than 80 percent of those jobs will go unfilled,” Allen said. “That’s because our students, our kids, are not getting that education right now.”

The store offers its patrons hands-on making and building experience, as well as classes, workshops and access to a maker space.

Lansing Maker Week has plenty of activities for adults, too. Sponsored the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, better known as LEAP, the event is designed to cover almost any topic a maker might find interesting.

“A lot of partners came together, and they really wanted to highlight and celebrate our history of manufacturing and of creative talent, which we’re seeing a lot of today,” said Joe Carr, LEAP’s startup innovation manager. “We’re seeing a return to that type of creative pursuit, whether it’s 3D printing or fashion design or automotive manufacturing.”

While Carr is hoping to pull in some new recruits for the maker movement, it’s just as important to him that the public has a chance to see the creative activities that are happening in the region.

“A big goal is to create a series of events that are fun so that people want to go and see what Lansing has to offer,” Carr said. “Not everyone who is going to come to the Maker Week events is going to say ‘I’ve got to start a new business,’ but my hope is that they say ‘this was pretty fun and I didn’t know about this.’”

And for makers in Lansing looking for community, the final day of Lansing Maker Week may be of interest. The Lansing Makers Network will hold a official grand opening for its new space on St. Joseph Street, southwest of downtown.

“We’re a non-profit maker space, so we have tools, equipment and all kinds of fun things for people to use and make and create things here,” said Lansing Makers Network co-founder Brian Adams. “I describe the tools we have here as just bait.

What’s cool about his space is the people who are working here, people who are genuinely interested in what everyone else is doing.”

Lansing Maker Week

Through Saturday, Oct. 8
See website for locations, times and admission prices