As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

A generation of Henry (and Henrietta) Fords is being shaped in front of our eyes

Today’s kids are being powerfully shaped into realizing they can be inventors and Makers.  I’m seeing examples of this as prevalent as Dunkin’ Donuts shops in Boston.

It’s so exciting to put the tools of innovation of physical products into more peoples’ hands.  Especially as it relates to kids, creating “real stuff” is such an appealing and human entry into entrepreneurship, as I have discussed before.

Here is a tiny sampling of recent observations.

Rapid Prototyping Lab at Northwestern University

Rapid Prototyping Lab at Northwestern University

At Northwestern University’s recent family weekend, one of the most popular choices was to visit the Rapid Prototyping Lab. Here pictured is a presumably younger sibling of a current student totally mesmerized by a 3-D printer.  The neurons in her brain are forming possibilities that are very different from what happens in front of a computer screen, or visiting a factory.  Invention of products becomes very accessible and personal when you watch one being printed right in front of you, next to other examples right on the table.

G.E. Garage in Chicago

G.E. Garage in Chicago

Also while in Chicago I visited the GE Garages Manufacturing Fab Lab–a month long installation with tons of free access to classes and expensive equipment.  The joint was jumping and highly accessible from its spot on a busy stretch of No. Michigan Avenue.

Main Street goes Maker

Main Street goes Maker

Back at the ranch that same week, I was walking down my little town’s main street and tripped on this sidewalk advertisement. Why is this Open House significant?  Up until now our town center options for kids have  included Paint-a-Plate, a sort of geeks trading card store, and bookstore story hour.  So seeing “bridge building”and “LEGO construction” in a Tech/Arts/Play Studio added to the mix is significant.

EurekaFest at MIT

EurekaFest at MIT

Also closer to home, I was lucky enough to go to the showcase event for the Lemelson-MIT  InvenTeams event for high school students earlier this year.  (Here is the recently announced listing of this year’s new teams.)  What an explosion of invention which largely focussed on things made of atoms.   Here is a video of a North Carolina team presenting their clever invention-with-social-benefits to Katie Couric just this week. 

A sketch of a school desk that produces electricity via pedal power

A sketch of a school desk that produces electricity via pedal power

The girls showed Katie a desk they invented that could help provide electricity to classsrooms without access to power.  This combination of a positive world benefit, with a product, is the central hallmark of the younger entrepreneurs (up to age 30) that we see at The Grommet.  The younger they are, the more likely they are to expect their business to have a higher purpose.  This is consistent with a Deloitte study on Millennials.


Max with his prototype of his "Mug with a Hoop"

Max with his prototype of his “Mug with a Hoop”

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Having said that, plenty of kid inventors simply set out to solve a problem or invent something they would like to use.  This was the case with Max’is Creations, one of the 10 finalists in the Grommets’ Product Pitch Competition.  But the difference for Max and his rise to the top of the heap, compared to kid inventors of the past, was that he had a 3-D printed prototype of his invention.  In fact none of the adults had that advantage and it helped level the playing field for Max to get his idea understood and appreciated.

MakerBot Retail Store in New York

MakerBot Retail Store in New York

This phenomenon is expanding to more Main Streets.  Last year, while speeding up Sixth Ave on a bus in New York,  I was jealous to spy MakerBot’s pop up 3-D printer store.  I wanted to jump off and explore but was late for an appointment.  This year I can stay closer to home as they are opening up a Boston version.  Next Christmas I predict a blanketing of the country with more permanent installations to inspire a much broader swath of kids.

Fortunately, we stand ready to help them out at The Grommet.  Building a product is hard enough, but building a business is what we help them do.  I notice I have become like some kind of geek version of a rock star when I speak at college campuses.  Young adults and kids “get” us in a deep kind of way.  This I why I always try to say yes to those campus speaking requests.  These innovators represent our future and I want to help them succeed.

5 Responses to “A generation of Henry (and Henrietta) Fords is being shaped in front of our eyes”

  1. Roberta

    Thank you! I am so glad someone is seeing that we need more than our computers. Yes, even as much as I am tied to mine, the three d is so important. Thank you.

  2. Roberta

    I would like to post this to facebook but it only allows me to “like”. Do you mind if I copy it to Facebook?

  3. Stacey Grant

    Hi Jules,
    I’d love to talk with you about starting Citygoods – an online marketplace for locally created and curated goods, services, and experiences; I’d like the first city marketplace to be: Detroit. I’m from around here, too, and there’s a great need to give Detroit entrepreneurs, artists, and makers easier access to us consumers who are hungry for locally made stuff we can eat, wear, gift, and do. This inappropriately placed comment sounds desperate and wierd. I know this. But I’d still love to hear from you.


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