Photo Credit: Andrew Williamson Photography

Written by Vibhu Gairola

“The maker arena started out as a grassroots scene that we were heavily involved with,” says Biying Miao, founder of small-batch manufacturing specialists Hot Pop Factory. “Now, there are many other spaces and even brands latching onto that idea.”

Less than five years ago, venues like site 3 and Hacklab were among the few spaces where one could participate in the maker community. But as the industry’s technology has evolved, so has the field. In addition to Toronto Maker Festival that attracts about 12,000 people to its annual event, flagship Autodesk location opening at MaRS in 2017, we have more than 20 open concept studios, maker spaces, and collaborative venues in the downtown core itself. Toronto loves its makers.

“Two and a half years ago, our first sessions were at Café Pomanar in Kensington, which essentially meant we brought 3D printers to the bar to let people test them. We always went [to] last call,” says Jonathan Moneta of the event experience studio, MakeLab. “The appetite for learning about new technologies is growing as fast as the technologies themselves, and with the explosion of new media programs at Ryerson University, George Brown College, and OCAD University that allow students to embrace emerging tech early, both the audience and talent pool of the local maker scene is multiplying at an impressive speed.”

The barriers to access for makers in Toronto is impressively low: 3D printing services are available at select Toronto Public Library branches, and programs like MakerKids are familiarising kids with Arduinos and lasers through games and interactive projects.

“The people here are some of the brightest, most talented minds in the world, but they have a very Canadian lack of pride,” says Dennon Oosterman, founder of ReDeTec, a company that develops technology to recycle plastic into filament for 3D printers. “They don’t think they’re the greatest but they actually are, so you can attract people who are phenomenally good, and who don’t mind working together even across companies,” he says.

And, once you’re here, help is often just an ask away: Toronto’s extensive network of makers can help fill gaps in your expertise and capacity. For instance, Hot Pop Factory and MakeLab both spent months holding open sessions that taught clients how to use their new tools and technologies; by the time they started working toward a paid customer base, they had already built an active community with growing interest around what they were doing. And, symbiotically, Toronto’s makers keep reinvesting their time and effort back into the culture that enables them.

Even as the global maker scene continues to grow, it’s likely that local talent will keep Toronto as home base, in order to remain part of one of the strongest ecosystems in North America.

“Vancouver and the Valley are very app focused, very finance-minded,” says Oosterman, “but Toronto has all of that and then some, including the quirky hardware startups and the artistic startups. I think that just breeds a much healthier system which makes it much easier for all companies to succeed.”

StartUp Spotlight on: Toronto's Makers and MakerSpaces

Invention has always been a driving – and defining – characteristic of human evolution. We invent machines to make our lives easier, tools to make them last longer, and sometimes we just invent things for the sake of inventing them.  

Here in Toronto, invention is the life blood of our rapidly growing startup ecosystem, and it has spread itself into all aspects of life, from business to culture to everything in between. 

Last month we looked at our burgeoning food industry, which is reinventing the way we consume and think about food. This month, we focus on our many makers and makerspaces that are quietly changing the way we think about how things are made and what is possible. 

Photo Credits: Andrew Williamson Photography (except where noted otherwise)