Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: Dream Factory

Moderators: Etty Padmodipoetro, Urban Idea Lab and Donalyn Stephenson, The FABAmerica Group
The rise of fab labs ( and makerspaces or hacker spaces ( has been rapid and phenomenal. There are now hundreds of spaces around the world, per ( and MIT (

Fab labs got their start in Cambridge, at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms ( ) in 2001 and the university currently hosts a site dedicate to its growth ( To go really in depth, watch Neil Gershenfeld’s Unleash your creativity in a Fab Lab from his February 2006 TED Talk ( ).

Etty Padmodipoetro, Co-Founder + Principal, Urban Idea Lab (, and Donalyn Stephenson, Co-Founder and Principal, The FABAmerica Group, FABLabs For America (, led this session as they are working together on opening the Dream Factory ( in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Dorchester ( ).

Their goal is to create a fab lab in the middle of the inner city, increasing digital literacy for the local population.  As they described it, a “fab lab is a connection between computer world with the physical world,” which is a terrific explanation. In essence, ideas are created on a computer, then sent to digital fabrication machines to create them, such as CNC routers (, 3D printers (, and laser cutters (

Dream Factory is, in a nutshell, a combination of community, product development, prototyping, and production.

The stories about children using fab labs to create products (either for their own use or to produce larger quantities for sale) are compelling. From creating a hammer made entirely of wood to tiny speaker cabinets to use with your smart phone, you can quickly see how a fab lab is both conceptual and very practical.

Stephenson lives in Dorchester and has four college and high school age children. The older children are pursuing degrees in engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology ( and Bucknell University ( and all are interesting in engineering.

As America struggles with what the best education approach should be in this era of fast-changing technology, projects like Build ( and Dream Factory are pushing ideas forward on how to challenge people in inner cities with how they can create new products and new careers.  While bolstering academic STEM programs, the Dream Factory could also revolutionize education by showing Boston youth that their ideas can come to life far easier than in past generations. It is also a solid community reinvestment, which is much needed in many neighborhoods in Boston.
What’s interesting is how many new models for innovation are happening around the US, from New York’s community biolab, Genspace (, to Minneapolis’ literary community, Open Book (, to New York’s urban gardening, Green Box Machine (, people are clearly not afraid to reinvent the way industries work if only given the chance to change them.

The Dream Factory is currently speaking with area colleges and universities to help launch the project. With a bit of help from the City of Boston, some impact investment (, and the support of the community by jumping in and taking advantage of all a fab lab has to offer, it’s going to be a great addition.

For more information about Etty Padmodipoetro, visit Urban Idea Lab ( ). For more information on Donalyn Stephenson, visit The TIE Project (
I am also working with a group in Jamaica Plain on opening a makerspace. For more information, visit JP Makers (

By Charles McEnerney

Charles McEnerney is a Principal at Layers Marketing ( ), a full-service agency handling traditional, web, and mobile marketing based in Boston, Massachusetts. Charlie has worked in marketing roles at media and entertainment companies for more than 25 years, including at ArtsBoston, Fast Company magazine, HBO, MovieMaker magazine, the Seattle International Film Festival, WGBH Boston, and in film, audio, and music production. Current and recent Layers Marketing clients include Appsembler, The Arts Fuse, Boston University's College of Fine Arts, The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts, Future of Music Coalition, Jamaica Plain Music Festival, and the Over My Shoulder Foundation. Charlie teaches the four marketing courses at Emerson College as well as workshops and seminars about marketing and social media.

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