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June 15, 2016 | Tom Ballard

Etsy Maker Cities Summit inspires Knoxville delegation

Etsy Maker CitiesBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“We didn’t know exactly what to expect,” Joy O’Shell of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center told us in describing the recent Etsy Maker Cities Summit. What they found left them inspired to hold their own local Etsy event.

O’Shell and two other Knoxvillians – Nanci Soloman of Rala and David Harman of Native Maps – participated in the inaugural event hosted by the peer-to-peer e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies as well as unique factory-manufactured items.

Rala opened in 2010 as a place to showcase products from Knoxville’s rich community of artists and crafters. It specializes in original art, screen-printed t-shirts, letterpress cards, and modern jewelry. Native Maps, which offers map from 10 cities, hand-pulls each one on acid-free paper made from renewable energy. It prints in small batches with non-toxic acrylic ink.

Etsy describes its Maker Cities initiative as pairing “municipalities that value entrepreneurship, sustainability, and responsible manufacturing with the creative and innovative spirit of the Etsy community.”

The goal is to create empowered micro-businesses that strengthen local economies while simultaneous changing how consumers buy, sell and create goods.

“Etsy is eBay for those in creative businesses,” O’Shell says. “Many of those using the site are home-based businesses. The goal of the Maker Cities program is to redefine crafting and realize it is manufacturing.”

The latter point – home-based businesses that make something are really manufacturers – is a key to where the Knoxville contingent sees the effort progressing locally.

O’Shell explains that part of their thinking involves bringing various sectors of the community together.

“Our goal is to create a place where those interested in growing home-based businesses can come together,” she explains.

One way is to focus on creating shared, maker and co-working spaces. Another way is to enable these home-based business owners to be able to access the excess capacity of existing manufacturers while also engaging the latter as mentors.

“We learned what makes things go and what does not,” O’Shell said about the first day of the Summit. The second day was dedicated to developing the Knoxville plan for an event later this year.

Etsy received applications from 126 cities across 41 states and Canadian provinces. Thirteen communities were invited to the mid-May event in Brooklyn. Attendees came from a diverse mix of cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Tacoma, WA, Pittsburgh, and Kennesaw, GA.

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