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Knoxville’s “The Maker City” platform enables businesses to grow and thrive

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

It has been five years since Knoxville was established as Etsy’s first “Maker City.” In that time, Knoxville’s take on the movement has grown to include a city-led council group, an annual Summit event, several recurring sessions and workshops, and a directory of hundreds of Knoxville businesses–all with the mission of connecting makers to the tools and resources needed to be successful in their business, whether that is customers, education, or connections.

When “The Maker City” was first established, one of the early steps was to set parameters on what areas to include within a membership directory. According to Maranda Vandergriff, Creative Director of “The Maker City” Support Staff at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), those parameters were intentionally kept broad to welcome more businesses into the fold. Artisans, makers, small-scale manufacturers, and creatives, as well as retailers, supporters, and maker spaces are represented in the listings.

Another initial step was to form a council. The Mayor’s Maker Council is made up of around 20 people who are appointed by the mayor and meet regularly. The Council was founded in 2016 by then-Mayor Madeline Rogero, just months after the city attended the “Etsy Maker Summit.” You can read more about the Etsy event, and Knoxville’s journey to creating “The Maker City” in this 2016 article from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Forrest Kirkpatrick, an architect, Founder of Fork Design, and member of the Maker Council, said the city wanted to reflect the diverse group of makers. Doing so meant the format of the Council needed to be a little more unique than a traditional council. “We needed a structure that would accommodate that diversity,” he said.

Councils like this usually have committees that handle different tasks. But Kirkpatrick said people can often lose their voice in that format. “You can get burned out in that system,” he added.

In the Maker Council, ideas are presented to the entire group. A working group is then formed around that idea, and that group determines the needs and goals. They then report back to the full council. This method helps members “create their place,” Kirkpatrick said.

When the pandemic was closing doors, “The Maker City” created a platform for makers to sell online through a “Monday Marketplace.” Anne Templeton, the Mayor’s Maker Council Liaison, said the organization helped to increase awareness of both the program and the businesses it supports as well as encouraging buyers to shop locally. She estimated that during 2020, over 300 vendors participated in the marketplace. “The Monday Marketplace” has shifted to become a “Holiday Marketplace” that will take place every Monday from November 1 – December 27. Maker entries are now being accepted through October 18th.

What “The Maker City” is perhaps best known for is its annual Summit. This networking event includes speakers on varied topics of interest and brings together experts, storytellers, and makers aiming to build and inspire our creative community. New to this year’s format were “Deep Dive” workshops offered every weeknight leading up to the main event on September 19th. The workshops focused on business skills, such as sales channels, photography, teaching workshops, accounting and legal, as well as marketing. Read more on the event in this teknovation.biz article.

These are just a sampling of the ways the program is driving awareness of local businesses. “Made for Knoxville,” a new campaign from the KEC is dedicated to telling the stories of entrepreneurs. Its website launched in March and has featured several makers on both the site and social media.

Visit themakercity.org to learn more and follow @themakercity on Instagram to keep up with “The Maker City’s” initiatives.

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