Yurii Vlasiuk: in the age of the internet to do something with your hands is of prime importance

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Mini Maker Faire

Kyiv Mini Maker FairePerson may live his entire life and be clueless that he is maker. But when he finds out this, then he will do much more usefulness for himself and for others, assures Yurii Vlasiuk. For four consecutive years he is organizing Mini Maker Faire – events, where one may show and see unusual homemade devices from antropohid (such transportation vehicle exists) and gloves-controllers to robot construction sets and simple metal products. Here you can see a lot of people: adults and children, who group together near exhibit items, listen attentively to inventors-craftsmen, enthusiastically examine strange devices.

Organizer of Mini Maker Faire told why it is important for the society to develop makers movement

These events are being held in Ukraine for four years already: in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv – a total of seven events were held. And more and more people become aware of makers movement, joint it and infect others with makership.

Yurii Vlasiuk told us what is this phenomenon and how it develops.

– Yurii, can you explain who are the makers?

– I will try. These are those who do something using their hands and head.

– So, software engineer – is not the maker?

– The one, who just writing the code – no. And if he applied his software to piece of iron and told someone about his project, then he is the maker.

– In other words, it is someone who makes something new?

Mini Maker Faire

– That is not necessarily so. Website instructables.com contains a lot of instructions of how to make whatever you want. You may repeat them, and even such an attempt will be makership. Maker – is the one, who makes something using his hands and is ready to talk about it, share his experience for the others to do it better or simply in their own way. Makers – are pretty much the same craftsmen, but they spread their knowledge. Even if persons makes the very same chairs, but may tell and explain to children how to hold hand plane – to be sure he is the maker.

– In other words, this shall be something useful?

– That is also not necessarily so. We have maker Ivan Pushechnikov, who makes antropohid – such a bicycle-like device, moving by means of various movements of person. Can one make money on it? No. Is it convenient to travel on it? No. But kids over the moon when they see it. It inspires them greatly! And we may hardly predict what will happen to children who tried to ride it – how will they take the world and how their imagination will work. But I am sure: they will get locked up less time on the screens, and will be more interested in professions of creativity, science, engineering.

– Why do we need makers?

– First, currently, when everyone is wrapped-up with internet and gadgets, to make something with own hands – it unloads brain a lot. Secondly, makership develops the local community. After all, when person is doing something for himself or for his neighbors, he is already gaining a little more, he leaves more resources within the local economy and gives less somewhere beyond the seas. Thirdly, makers spread new knowledge and approaches, and so they are developing the community, humanity – because preeminently inventions appear.at the confluence of various knowledge Therefore, our goal is to make makers acquaint with each other, to build makership community of the city, oblast, country.

Mini Maker Faire

And what is the most important – experience of the very same US has shown that if persons are able to make something by themselves, then they are usually more independent. Moreover, not in their everyday life only, but as citizens too. Because they can make wheelchair ramp for persons with wheelchairs, or squeaker on the traffic light. They will put the lamp in a poorly lit place by themselves. Such persons are more responsible both socially and politically – they may easily talk to the authorities and insist on their own. This is something that I at least saw in the US.

And I can speak long hours about the influence of makers on the local economy.

– How have you decided to make Faire Maker?

– One day I noticed that my younger son is getting locked up on the screen a growing number of hours: in the smartphone or tablet. I wanted to drag him away from gadgets, but just to ban them – not an option. Some sort of useful alternative is needed. Then I noticed that when my son makes origami with my wife he is as attentive as when he plays on tablet. Then I started to look for workshops where something may be done by hands, periodicals like “Young technician”, “Technology for the youth”, “Model maker – design engineer”. I clapped my eyes on “Make Magazine” periodical, joined its mailing list. In one of its mails I was invited to the fair and I decided to get wise of it. I was amazed, because I got used to the fact that the fair is the place where something is being foisted. And Maker Faire has entirely different operating principle and it sounds like slogan “The Greatest Show and Tell”. I looked at the existing fairs in the world, read their Facebook-pages, I was very interested in them.

Mini Maker Faire

And then once I was sitting with Roman Zinchenko (co-founder of innovation network Greencubator – editor’s note) I sat over the coffee and told him that so and so, I want to make such a fair, but I do not have enough makers. And he said: “Oh, I will introduce you to such persons”. And he introduced: with those from Kyiv and Kharkiv. Then I took decision that fair shall be held.

– And how to held it?

– File application on the website of American Maker Faire, pass an interview with their producers and get a franchise. And then I had series of strange coincidences. Thus, I and Denis Dovgopoliy, president of GrowthUP accelerator, were on our way to Odesa to visit the opening of “Terminal 42” coworking, and I told him about Maker Faire. GrowthUP decided to support the fair – half of financial costs were already covered. And then Intel helped us a lot – there were few such specific events where company was able to successfully draw attention to itself. The first fair – in 2014 in Kyiv – and during next four fairs it rendered us financial assistance and was the general partner.

Mini Maker Faire

Festival culture in Kyiv is already powerful, and therefore it is not difficult to hold the event itself, although we had to strain ourselves a little. Provision shall be made for insurance, fire safety, first aid, etc. But it was much more difficult to call together makers, to attract them, organize, explain, prepare them.

– Are they shy?

– Right you are. The problem in makership movement is that the makers themselves spend more time in the garages, workshops, they enjoy their masterpieces so much, that they have no time to meet someone. They often do not even know that they may communicate, where and how.

We with some makers are learning the presentation skills. It is easier for Americans – yet in school they master this. And our people have to find presentation format – how to preferably show the product or how it was created.

Mini Maker Faire

Nevertheless, shy makers are everywhere. In a broad manner, person, who makes something with his hands, not necessarily, but mostly introvert. Once we – Maker Faire organizers – tried to understand why one foreign fair failed – people just did visited it. We analyzed and jumped to the conclusion that one of the reasons was that producer incorrectly communicated with makers, found no approaches to them. Therefore, this is a very important skill – to attract the maker. For someone this is me, who searches approaches, and for someone – my wife.

– How do you find makers?

– Now it’s a piece of cake for me. I know how to seek them. Not least because there are dozens if not hundreds of thousands of them in Kyiv. It is easily if you are willing to do this. For instance, in any wood processing workshop there are 2-3 classic makers among 20 residents: not just cranking out furniture, but make flower bowls from roots of the trees.

Mini Maker Faire

Listen up everybody: if you know that some craftsman makes some interesting original things with his hands, give me his contact details. And it’s working. Is such a way I made friends with many makers – as of today my database consists of 600 craftsmen in Kyiv.

– What is needed for you to invite person to the fair?

– In each case it is necessary to look and communicate. If a person is able to show, for instance, to bind up one or two rows of threads, to teach children this skill – why not? It is very important for the exhibit items to be distinct from each other. Nearly 30 companies sell 3D-printers in Kyiv, and if all of them show one and the same thing – it is boring. But if someone shows printed prosthetic devices, someone – flexible plastic products, someone – goods of utmost practicability for domestic use, like handle for gas stove – it’s much better. In such a way I am trying to prepare makers, for them to stand out against others.

– How much do you pay for franchise?

– I will not tell you this.

– And how much do you earn on events?

– So much to repay them and to pay for franchise. If we had financial partner that could cover financial needs of the fair, I would have given tickets at no charge.

– Are there such an examples somewhere?

– Yes, they are. In Spanish Bilbao municipal government pays the full costs of local Maker Faire, because it is interested in having persons that study something new, master new professions – they have critical unemployment issue. Or in China the state compensates for all the expenses, tickets and accommodation to makers-visitors – they draw them together across the whole the region there.

Mini Maker Faire

We do as much as we can to help participants, visitors. We make special conditions for various schools and study groups. For profession-oriented institutions, especially – for technical vocational schools, whose number is progressively smaller. Even if these are robotics schools selling educational services – we are still very interested in them.

We even give tickets to teachers. When we saw that people go to our fairs from some outlying village, at their own expense, in order to encourage the pupils afterwards – we were amazed. Extremely amazed.

– You also conduct excursions to workshops, maker-spaces. What for?

Mini Maker Faire

– People see and are surprised that something may be produced here, rather than ordering everything in China. This strengthens the faith in Ukraine. People assure themselves that it is preferable to make dozen or hundred prototypes in their own city. Once I was in Berlin and asked where several certain electronic circuit cards may be made. And I was told that such microelectronics manufacturer is located round the corner. Round the corner! It is more economically advantageous to manufacture small batches of goods at your own place, rather than on the other side of the planet. Thus, Ecoisme (Ukrainian startup, developing home energy management – editor’s note) placed an order for fifty its devices in Ukraine. Indeed, micro-batch production is very advantageous for local economies, because money remains within the community.

– How does your statistically average visitor look like?

– Once we were kidding that our ideal visitor – Senior level software engineer, 35 years old, with a child. This is a person, who was writing a code for 20 consecutive years, did nothing with his own hands, and now he has certain hunger. After all, he has to teach his child for him to do something with his own hands. So he opens website for makers and sees how and for what this or that circuit diagram is made, and he may do something similar.

Mini Maker Faire

But our audience has grown. Many parents have hunger. After all, each generation has its own desires: upon dissolution of the USSR almost all parents dreamed of their children becoming economists, then – bank employees, then – lawyers. Currently software engineers are in favor. But it is impossible for 50% of the people to be software engineers! There are many children who do not understand and do not want to understand software engineering – they just do not perceive it. But they are very skilled at work with their own hands – they feel good not abstract, but particular physical things.

Therefore we started with the focus on technologies – it’s easier to excite the curiosity of people from the start. And now we have more segments, and visitors are widely different. I was shocked when I saw how at the last fair one elderly man with a middle-aged woman showed figures made of straw. Children galloped on those straw horses, made something out of straw – are they worse than those who are interested in robotics? By the way, those who were interested in software engineering, enjoyed playing with the straw too.

– Do Ukrainian makers have any specific features?

– Hardly anyone works with propane. At many foreign fairs some fire spitting devices are made for the entertainment purposes. And at our place additional permits and safety arrangements are needed.

Mini Maker Faire

A great many people from small or medium-sized enterprises refuse to participate in the fair – they do not want to blow cover. They do unique things for export, and do not want to attract attention to themselves. They are afraid of authorities or for some other reason. Even if they do not participate, they do not refuse to help us.

On numerous occasions foreigners emphasize that there is high engineering level in Ukraine. And in the very same US you could always buy everything, but in USSR – never and nothing. Our people were forced to do everything by themselves, therefore they have such a high craftsmanship. Approach “do it yourself” is in our DNA. Therefore, I start laughing when I hear that city of over one million has no makers.

Well, for instance, we had employee at Space Research Institute, who made “observation dome”. She takes black bags, cuts them, sticks them together with adhesive tape, puts fan and inflates the dome. Inside she glues “stars”, brings people there and tells them two fairy tales. When her fairy tales are over, listening public will remember at least 10 constellations for sure. In other words, this is makership, and storytelling. And what is the main – construction costs next to nothing, it may be easily spread all over the schools. At least to send out the drawings to teachers. By the way, the author saw nothing remarkable in her invention, until she was convinced at the fair when both adults and children trooped to her.

– How many people come to the fair? For instance to Kyiv Mini Maker Faire?

Mini Maker Faire

– The first Kyiv Mini Maker Faire had 1,800 visitors, the second – 2,500, the third – about 5,000, and this year the fourth – also 5,000. This is less than we expected, because on that weekend in May we competed with many other events that were postponed due to Eurovision. But if there were fifty makers at the first fair, this time – two hundred.

– Do Maker Faire have any influence on the makership movement in Ukraine?

– It is hard enough to measure direct influence. But for sure, it makes some changes. Several maker-spaces – public workshops – were opened during this period, maybe not thanks to our fairs, but to some extent our events contributed to this. After all, you may doubt long hours whether there will be demand for them, or not. But when founders of maker-spaces see persons and their interest, they take decisions to open such maker-spaces.  And this is for the good of us, because the more we have such spaces, the more residents exist, the more interesting homemade products, the more interesting exhibit items are at out fairs.

Mini Maker Faire

– When and where next Mini Maker Faire will be held?

– On the 10th of September in Odesa. Many makers from other cities will go there. Come and see how things will turn out.

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