Silicon Valley is the undisputed world center for tech start ups and Boston is a distant second, but in the world of mass customization there may not be a better place to be than New England. When people talk about productive eco-systems for start ups they often talk about the need for an enthusiastic talent base, world class educational institutions, and companies to productize the innovations of the other two groups. By any measure the Boston area is doing well on all three counts.
ZCorp Develops the only 3D printers capable of printing in 4 colors In Burlington MA, while Harmonix developed RockBand’s avatar customization engine in Cambridge. Custom TShirt manufacturer Spreadshirt has their US HQ in Boston. MOO, the eclectic print on demand service established its US operations in Providence RI. Tabblo is now part of HP, but their talented team is still Boston(ish). Paragon Lake is using mass customization to disrupt the $60B jewelry industry in historic Lexington MA. Still in the early stages, OnLatte (custom coffee art) and Artaic (custom tile murals) are enabling on demand production in the Boston area.
Willoughby & Baltic is a great boston based “Hacker Space” regularly running classes on machine tools and emerging platforms like Arduino. AS220 is a Providence RI based hacker space that offers a similar variety of classes and community. New England is also home to DorkBot, WebInno, a Pecha-Kucha group and a plethora of other tech events.
MIT is home to the Center for Bits and Atoms and genius professor Neil Gershenfeld who wrote the book on personal fabrication. The Rhode Island School of Design in Providence training the next generation of designers who can design amazing user interfaces and the products they produce.
Other Customization Hot Spots
New England has not gone unchallenged. The bay area is home to an exciting maker community with Zazzle, CafePress, TechShop, Ponoko‘s US operation, and the O’Reilly Make: empire and NYC has Bug Labs, Proper Cloth, NYC Resistor, and MakerBot. Still Boston seems to have more companies and a greater diversity than the other central hubs.
Even more interesting is how geographically disparate the world of customization is in the US alone. Toy customizers Build-A-Bear Workshop and Ride Makerz are based in St.Louis. ProvoCraft is a $250MM company that manufactues CNC tools for crafters is located in Utah. Amazingly, ShopBot, Spoonflower, and a TechShop franchise are all located in North Carolina. To borrow a line from Thomas Freidman, mass customizers can innovate without emigrating.