Meet Miami’s maker movement

Willie Avendano and Nelson Milan will host The New Tropic’s Maker Hour tonight to introduce more Miamians to emergent technologies and the maker movement. Tickets are $10 for Members and $15 for non-members, and attendees get a free drink, snacks and a hands-on experience with 3D printers, virtual reality, and rapid prototyping.

Willie Avendano and Nelson Milan are the co-founders of Mindjoule and Wynwood Maker Camp and partners with MIAMade. The dynamic duo, known affectionately as “Willie Nelson” in Miami’s tech scene, are creating a new model for education within Miami’s maker movement. They’re teaching kids to follow their own interests through technology including programming, electronics, robotics, microcomputers, virtual reality, 3D printing, drones, and music and video creation.

What we now call the maker movement is an acceleration of old-fashioned human ingenuity through technology and community, Avendano said. One of its biggest local showcases is MIAMade’s Miami Mini Maker Faire, which drew more than 2,000 attendees in 2014 in just its second year. Add in Mindjoule and new collaborative maker spaces like Miami Industrial Arts popping up around town, and it’s easy to see that Miami’s movement is growing, they said.

In Miami and around the world, the maker movement has evolved in close alignment with the rise of cheaper, faster technology for prototyping. “The most powerful idea of the maker movement is that I have a thought, I create it and I have it in my hand that exact same day,” Milan said. “I can think something, model and print it in a few hours. The speed at which you can bring things to life is the most powerful idea for consumers and for businesses.”

As transformative technologies like 3D printing and computers grow more accessible, more people are able to construct innovative ways to use them. Milan pointed to drones, DIY weather balloons, and a new $9 computer called CHIP as examples of ways that makers have made formerly high-cost technology more accessible to the masses. And Milan and Avendano are invested in making more makers.

So far, more than 60 children have attended Wynwood Maker Camp, and more will enroll this summer during the two-week sessions designed to help kids chase their own passions with technology. At a recent camp, two brothers who were big World War II buffs 3D printed materials for and made a video re-enactment of a battle. Other students learned about design principles through the game Minecraft, or designed games and built computers. But being a maker isn’t all kid stuff.

“The maker movement isn’t just education, but it is predicated on action-based learning and creating,” Avendano said. “We use it in an educational context, but the idea behind being a maker goes into things like art-making, ceramics, any sort of products that you can create; the entire DIY culture.”

The maker ethos also extends far beyond the popular image of the lone genius inventor making your next favorite gadget in a garage. Milan points to how the community has been remaking Miami’s public spaces as a evidence that being a maker doesn’t have to start and end with technology. The big idea is that makers create as well as consume, they said.

“Miami is a highly entrepreneurial city already, and people here want to get their hands dirty,” Avendano said. “I think people are taking to the idea of ‘build your own Miami,’ and I think the maker movement is helping lay the groundwork for more big, transformational changes in the city.”