Maker Faire 2A community team started by Nova Labs recently hosted the inaugural Nova Mini Maker Faire, a family- and kid-friendly event highlighting innovative and creative people in Northern Virginia.  Nova Mini Maker Faire was a grassroots event run by and with an entirely volunteer force. It was held at the complex of South Lakes High and Langston Hughes Middle Schools in Reston, VA.

Nova Labs is a makerspace - a community workshop – which is a collaborative place where entrepreneurs, hobbyists, tinkerers and artists – “makers” - have access to many more tools and expertise than they'd ever have in their own garages or studios.

Maker Faires are billed as the greatest show and tell on earth, and are a friendly collision of science and art.  The first Maker Faire began in California and these days attracts upwards of 125,000 attendees to see exhibits ranging from fire-breathing sculpture to the explosive reaction of Coke+Mentos. The larger events have expanded to New York, Kansas City, and Detroit, with others in Europe and Asia.  Maker Media curates the overall events and highlights in Make magazine the problem-solving hobbyists, artists, inventors, and  tinkerers who have created homebuilt projects of all kinds and are willing to share what they've learned.  Our Northern Virginia Maker Faire is considered 'mini' because of its size and regional focus.  However, we had about 3200 people and over 100 makers, so it was hardly a mini effort.

Maker Faire 3After working to launch Nova Labs in the Fall of 2011, the founding members believed there were a burgeoning set of creative people in the area working on exciting, oddball projects.  The challenge was finding them all and connecting them for even more collaborative work together.  And thus, my idea for having a local Mini Maker Faire was born.

The planning for the Nova Mini Maker Faire began about a year ago, and kicked into high gear with the dynamic duo of Jeanne Marshall and Amy Shaw who took this idea and helped to make it a reality with their superb organizational skills. They coordinated a small team that planned and organized the event including details such as logistics, volunteers, and maker relations.

One of the exhibits was GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science), a past NVCF Innovation Fund grantee.  The progression of Maker Faire 1learning by the girls participating in GEMS was so great that they were able to help lead the activities for the GEMS exhibit at the Faire.  There was a large area set aside for attendees to take apart obsolete or inoperative computers and appliances to see how they operated, learning more than they realized because it was fun.

There are many things to get excited about in evaluating our Maker Faire.  Approximately 3200 people attended to see over 100 interactive exhibits that day. There were 300-400 makers comprising teams exhibiting everything from drones to wind-tunnels, robots, and 3d-printers. It's hard to summarize the diverse set of makers present. There was an army of over 300 volunteers who handled everything from setup, check-in/registration, crowd management, and cleanup when the event was over.  We arranged with the Fairfax Connector bus service to transport attendees to the school complex since parking on-site was sparse and limited to makers and volunteers.  While anecdotal, we've heard nothing but positive and enthusiastic commentary on the Faire.

One of the biggest challenges was finding a big enough space in Fairfax County to have the event.  We needed space that is large enough for makers, plenty of parking, and ideally near a Metro station to make access easy.  This is a tall order to fill in Fairfax County and first on our agenda for next year.

We had some great community sponsors step forward to help us put on this event, including the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia's Innovation Fund, Ideaventions, Wyolum, and Holland & Knight.  A full list will appear on the Nova Mini Maker Faire website.

To follow the planning and scheduling of next year's event, you can follow along on Twitter (@makerfairenova), Facebook or G+ (makerfairenova).  Or heck, you could just look at the website!