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FabLab as Entrepreneurship supporting tool for innovation agencies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FABLABIA (FabLab as Entrepreneurship supporting tool for innovation agencies)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

A FabLab (fabrication laboratory) is a technical prototyping platform for innovation and invention that stimulates entrepreneurship at local and regional levels. It is also a platform where makers learn, meet, share know-how, prototype, and cooperate.
The overall concept of the FABLABIA project starts with the finding that it is rare for European innovation agencies to operate a FabLab and that this tool is currently under-exploited as a business innovation support service for SME in general and start-ups and scale-ups more specifically.
Nowadays, FabLabs are increasingly being adopted by schools, universities and museums as platforms for project-based, hands-on STEM education. Surprisingly, the potential benefits of FabLabs for startups and early-stage SMEs have not been recognized by business innovation centers in Europe, as evidenced by our survey of FabLabs. This partly reflects the novelty of FabLabs themselves, but also clearly indicates that the concept of FabLabs has not yet been fully exploited by the business innovation center community throughout the EU.
In order to raise the level of innovation support provided to SMEs across the EU, the main aim of the implemented project FABLABIA — FabLab as an entrepreneurship supporting tool for business innovation centres is to gather the experience of business innovation centres who use FabLab as an innovation tool for the benefit of SMEs and to turn it into a codified best practice manual (DOP).
Work performed during the project combined four offline and online workshops where consortium members exchanged experience, identified and analyzed good practices on topics mentioned below, which were later summarized in DOP. The project implementation was affected by COVID-19 pandemics. Therefore, the project implementation was extended by 6 months. Results and findings of following workshops were formulated in DOP and deliverables.
1) Mapping good practices and success stories of FabLabs supporting SMEs around Europe and worldwide. Output from this workshop was comparison and benchmarking of current practices in FabLabs – programs and services they offer for business innovation support in SMEs.
2) FabLab operation workshop based on customer journey – workshop covering especially terms of services for users, safety issues and legal framework, automatization of processes in FabLab. The step-by-step description was created with special attention to be easy to adopt by any innovation agencies or FabLabs around Europe.
3) Workshop on sustainable various business models of FabLab based on experience of consortium members with the aim to ensure sustainability of operation and involve relevant stakeholders (corporates, midcaps, other stakeholders).

To adapt services to the needs of SMEs, we created a short survey, which results are also part of DOP. In this survey, we asked 110 SMEs (clients of JIC, Technoport and brigk) about their prototyping needs, what would motivate them to use a FabLab and what additional services it should have. Moreover, the purpose of the survey was to find a way to increase the added value of FabLab for companies — clients of the innovation centre as well as support of the BIC ́s services through an influx of talents from FabLab. The main findings from the survey showed us that SMEs:
• would prefer to use FabLab as an on-demand service. They would like to order a complete prototype solution rather than going through all steps like requirements and analysis; quick design; choosing the right technologies and building the prototype.
• want more and bigger machines (solution for the whole PCB prototyping, metal 3D printers, CNC for metal materials, water jet cutting, coating; machines for cutting and bending metals)
• prefer nonstop access to the facility.
• want very specific expertise — they would appreciate specialists they can hire for limited time: material experts, CAD+CAM professionals, skilled operators but also soft backgrounds like UX designers.
• require a combination of business workshops which would be part of FabLab activities.
• need support not only in prototyping but also in product validation and later commercialization.

Regarding dissemination, the main communication activities are linked to the targeted DOP dissemination at the end of the project. The DOP was disseminated to the FabLabs via FAB network, innovation agencies via EURADA and EBN. The planned dissemination activities, mainly international conference for
European Fablabs (planned in March 2020) have been affected by COVID-19 outbreak and could not be realized due to the national as well as international restrictions. However we will use this platform to disseminate the DOP results once the event will be re-scheduled. More information will be published at: https://www.meetfablabs.eu/
The impact of FABLABIA project lies in the fact that the recommendations made in DOP go far beyond Fablab as simple space for makers, it opens new possibilities to use its potential for business innovation centers. FabLab is re-introduced to the business innovation centres as a service specifically dedicated to rapid prototyping and a source of support for hardware as well as software companies. Incubated companies can benefit from being introduced to skilled members of the FabLab community that they can either partner with or hire directly. Above all, one of the most important benefits for business innovation centres is that the vast majority of FabLab users state that they would never have come to the business innovation centre, so FabLab is an excellent way to advertise the centre and attract potential new clients and entrepreneurs to it.
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