After attending a conference in Amsterdam, Bonnie Sampson, Ryan Dawson and I ventured south to Paris to explore the maker movement. Currently, Paris has a stronger presence than any other European city.

The maker movement in Paris is new. The first ‘official’ Maker Faire, took place in June of 2014 after a test run in October of the previous year. It was modeled after events taking place in the US as early as 2006. Many ‘Maker Spaces’ share similar characteristics in content and execution as their American counterparts. But France also boasts other type of spaces that create a community of Makers with specific focus. For example, the La Paillasse, is a maker space that is dedicated to “biohacking and open science.” They create relevant local connections through a filtered approach. They also provide clarity on which hub to gain expertise in the different topics. Volumes, combines co-working, making and food, each with their own membership options.

We first visited Maker sur Seine, a Fab Lab located in the 4th arrondissement, that focuses on 3D printing. I didn’t know enough French and they didn’t know enough English for us to learn much more than this. However, what we did gather is that a FabLab is a franchise of MIT’s Media Lab.

Leroy Merlin is a France based home improvement company, serving Europe, Russia, Asia, South America and Africa. They’re kind of a ‘big deal.’

Last year, they partnered with San Francisco based, TechShop, to open the first European location in Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris. “The 20,000-square-meter shop, called TechShop Ateliers Leroy Merlin, is in Ivry-sur-Seine next to a large Leroy Merlin store. It has more than 150 machines over two floors, even more than in the flagship San Francisco TechShop. It’s an impressive array of tools and workspaces.” Leroy Merlin plans to create several more TechShops through France to provide “a place for people ‘to create, manufacture, and share their projects,’ some of which may become innovative products.”

This location operates in much the same way as they do across the US. They train, teach workshops and provide project space for their members.

I’d like to point out that the San Francisco TechShop is just a few blocks from Capital One’s 203 3rd Street office. Additionally. TechShop has a total of 10 US locations including one in Arlington, VA.

Our greatest maker meet up came from a connection provided by Dan Makoski. Christophe Tellec is considered an expert in Innovation Management and Design Thinking. He’s the founder and CEO of We Design Services, a small powerhouse located in Paris’ Chinatown. They bring together management science and design to build company R&D capabilities through products, programs and applied research. With clients like the French Government, Leroy Merlin, Publicis and L’Oréal, Chris had a lot of insight on how large companies are utilizing the maker movement to work for them. WDS was recently awarded young innovative status for the R&D effort around ECOS: a methodology and software they are developing to help companies manage their innovative ecosystem and business transformation of their existing ecosystem. Currently, WDS is working with several large companies such as Areva NP (the French nuclear company) on the future of the smart factory and training the Airbus Group to digitally transform leadership. In addition, they will be launching an “innovation and value creation” training program in partnership with EDF R&D, to be sold externally to other innovative companies.

Some companies have allotted creative space minus the making part. The space is provided on the condition that teams must use a new methodology. Société Générale, a Les Dunesstartup, “provide corporate space where anyone internally can be accelerated, but has to book a room AND a methodology (Design Thinking, breakthrough innovation…) when booking.”

Other companies have built out acceleration labs that pair up entrepreneurs with makers’ spaces, creating a collaborative space with the purpose of facilitating connections. The French government has developed research labs. Renault and Peugeot lead the way in the tech space, which we witnessed each time we used Uber. French companies embracing the movement are looking to not only facilitate but to ‘provoke breakthroughs.’ Chris pointed out that, “innovation should be the role of everyone.”

Chris told us about HelloTomorrow, a two-day conference that occurs yearly and draws approximately 2,000 attendees. The event encourages companies to place greater emphasis on learning and training through design. They connect “deep-tech entrepreneurs” with the right investors.

Another Makerspace accelerator, Usine, works with start-ups to go from idea to industrialization, hosting both corporates and startups. This concept of facilitating connections is similar to the goal of the new Capital One downtown Richmond location currently under development. As we learned throughout our tour, the act of making continues to be a resource to drive innovation in its various forms regardless of geographic location.

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