by Sofia Lotto Persio
From the window-shop, it looked like one of those quirky design stores so popular in Shoreditch. The leaflets hanging from the door explained that Makerscafe is not just that. It is also a 3D printing lab, a laser-cutting facility, and a café. It is “the combination of all my fantasies in one place, to summarise the whole thing,” described its founder and owner, Soner Ozenc.
Ozenc, 34, moved to the UK from Turkey eleven years ago to study Product Design at Central Saint Martin. Once he graduated he set up a design studio where he would make and sell his own products: “From that point I was an entrepreneur. I never worked for anyone, it was always my business,” he proudly said.
The idea for Makerscafe evolved from his previous business experiences. He got involved in digital manufacturing technology during his student days, and after opening his design studio he thought of using his skills to make it possible for others to experiment with digital manufacturing technology. This is how the website RazorLab came to life. From there, the step to Makerscafe simply involved finding a physical space.
Ozenc forged a partnership with the Old Shoreditch Station, a bar at one of Shoreditch’s busiest crossroads: “We sublet one of the rooms, they do the coffee for us, and we do the laser cutting and the printing,” he explained.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to change the face of manufacturing: “In some makers spaces they expect you to come from a certain level of education, but here you can grab a cup of coffee and maybe that’s it. We do not push people, we don’t judge people on the level they come from or their level of knowledge, we are here to help anyone from students, to amateurs, to homeless, to drunk people!”
3D printing is a relatively new technology that has been hailed as a revolution in manufacturing. Barack Obama recently became the first US President to have his portrait made using a 3D scanner and printer. In the 2013 State of the Union address, he said: “3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything.”
The prospects of the 3D printing industry look promising. Wohlers Associate, an independent consulting firm specializing in the manufacturing sector, expected the growth of the 3D printing market to almost double in the next five years to $6.5 billion dollars.
While Ozenc obviously sees the market potential for his business, he was more cautious with his predictions of how it will revolutionise people’s lives: “3D printing is not going to replace everything, but it’s a good complement […] It is more for customizing.”
The people of Shoreditch seem to appreciate this service: “The creative crowd is one of the interests here, I don’t need to do any marketing or advertising, people passing by can just pick up a leaflet,” Ozenc said. This is what makes Shoreditch a prime location for his business: “I see this as a billboard just for people to see what Makerscafe is about. Eventually we will get a bigger space, maybe around Bethnal Green, and that’s going to be the factory […] Here you’d see things, and there you’d actually make them, in a bigger scale.”
Ozenc is also keen on the digital side of the business, as his website RazorLab is due be rebranded as Makerscafe.com. Having a balance between online and offline is importnat, he explained: “[It] is the only way to make this business scalable. Makerscafe is the physical space, it’s good and nice but then there is a limited amount of people that you can reach from a space like this.”
Big ambitions require big investments. Ozenc is currently financing the business himself, but he is aware that more investment is needed. He planned to launch a crowdfunding project by next Spring to support the business’ expansion. His plans involve opening in New York and Sidney, and then take over the rest of the world creating a franchise: “We have much bigger ambitions. You haven’t seen anything yet,” he promised.