Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Resurgence of Makers and Small Firms: Innovation in the Energy Sector

Guest blog by Karen Lawrence, KLCreative Media

Last year around this time, SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc., a small manufacturer of solar/wind/water powered generators, was celebrating its 10th anniversary and posted a two-part interview with inventor Alan Mattichak and co-owners Jenny and Scott French chronicling the path from idea to marketplace. In rereading those posts and watching trends in energy and the American workforce this past year, I am struck by not only the resurgence of “makers” like Al Mattichak, but how individuals and small companies like SUNRNR are stepping into the national spotlight to bolster a wide range of innovations and changes in the way business is done, particularly in the energy sector.

SUNRNR Inventor Al Mattichak
Scott & Jenny French, photo by Daily News-Record, Nikki Fox
Take the ground-breaking methods of bringing new concepts to market highlighted in the article “Welcome to the Maker-Industrial Revolution” from Popular Science earlier this year for instance. Tracing the roots of the decline of corporate manufacturing and the rise of the “maker movement,” a trend in which products are created and marketed employing do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-with-others ( DIWO) techniques and processes, the article outlines the benefits of modern models of crowdsourced, fast-paced innovation and manufacturing. “Any enterprise shackled to a slow and expensive production model could benefit from low-cost, fast-paced innovation. Indeed, if outsourcing was a major source of competitive advantage over the past 30 years, rapid innovation, low-risk manufacture, and proximity to markets could take its place over the next 30 years.” Trend-watchers see the emergence of a more systematic, collaborative model that merges large markets and manufacturers with entrepreneurial individuals and small companies (like SUNRNR) that are developing, market-testing, and refining products on a much smaller scale as a step towards accelerating “…a new movement in U.S. industry, one in which jobs and innovation come back to stay.”

Even big name think tanks like The Miller Center at the University of Virginia are talking up the importance of reinvigorating the American Dream by focusing on “big trends-small firms,” expanded innovation capacity of small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises, and “upside-down” degrees encouraging work experience and education in their initiative “Building a Nation of Makers Six Ideas to Accelerate the Innovative Capacity of America’s Manufacturing SMEs.”

Turn the spotlight of all this talk about a “nation of makers” and the importance of innovators in increasing and expediting access to renewable energy to more people worldwide, and you’ll find experts touting the same message. The U.S. edition of The Guardian offers up Nine Ideas to Spark Innovation in the Energy Sector from a wide-variety of sources, and supporting grassroots innovators and scaling invention incentives to encourage faster global adoption of needed renewable energy technologies are high on the list of ways to accelerate renewable energy availability.
Jenny French at White House Round Table, photo credit
Businesses participating in Canary Islands Trade Mission
SUNRNR has been fighting the barriers to small firms entering the marketplace for more than a decade, but events of 2015 may indicate a renewed interest in inventors and small firms as key players in rebuilding U.S. industry and its viability here and abroad. SUNRNR was invited to participate in a Small Business Exporters Roundtable at the White House in 2015 and joined a U.S. Trade Mission that is part of the Doing Business in Africa Campaign in November, as an emphasis on the importance of small companies to the overall economic health of the U.S. has taken center stage. 

What does this trend mean for the next 10 years of SUNRNR? No one knows for sure, but we’ll be watching and rooting for the home team to take this innovative product to the next level of global distribution!    

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