- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sandra Richter was sitting on a bench outside the White House on Wednesday. But it wasn’t a normal bench, and it certainly wasn’t a normal day for the young entrepreneur.

Ms. Richter was sitting on Soofa, a solar-powered, industrial bench of her own invention, that will allow the public to charge their phones, tablets and other devices outside. It will be introduced in 12 different locations throughout the Boston area next week.

“It’s an infrastructure that addresses the needs of the mobile generation,” said Ms. Richter, who created Soofa with two others at the MIT Media Lab. “[We thought], let’s change our environment into a social, sustainable and smart space.”

Ms. Richter was among more than 100 entrepreneurs, innovators, and tinkerers celebrated at the first ever White House Maker Faire. The event orginated in 2006 and is billed by sponsor Media Maker as “the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth.” It was designed to gather together a contemporary culture of do-it-yourself innovators, know as “makers,” to show off their inventions and share what they’ve learned with others.

President Obama met with participants of the White House Maker Faire on Wednesday and, in turn, announced several new efforts that he says will spur and revitalize manufacturing in the United States.

“We are at the dawn of something big,” Mr. Obama said, comparing the Maker Movement to the evolution of the Internet. “We’re taking shop class into the 21st century. New tools and technologies are making the building of things even easier. Democratization of manufacturing is available because of technology.”

These efforts include providing young makers with more support services, start-up grants and makerspaces. More than 13 federal agencies and a number of private sector companies have pledged to provide expanded access to their resources. Likewise, more than 150 higher education institutions and 130 libraries are expanding opportunities for students to become makers.

“This is not just a job for government,” Mr. Obama said.

Wednesday’s event follows the President’s trip to TechShop in Pittsburgh Tuesday where he toured high-tech workstations.

An official with Maker Faire said the Maker Movement has received a great deal of attention over the past year because of the industrial revolution and governmental resources. Maker Faire, which launched in 2006, hosted 100 events in 2013, and has already had 140 events in 2014. The next large event will take place in New York this September.

“We only want so many per city to make sure that they’re successful for the community,” she said.

Though she didn’t have a figure offhand, Maker Faire marketing director Bridgette Vanderlaan said she has noticed an increased in trade schools due to the Maker Movement.

“I think we’re seeing more people with Makerspaces that are popping up. We’re not seeing as many degrees [from trade school], but I think you’ll start seeing that,” Ms. Vanderlaan said. “There are kids that are more and more, with that physical need, wanting to do the physical stuff. Sometimes education isn’t as much what kids are interested in.”

So how does one become a maker?

Ms. Richter, who plans to expand her Soofa business to San Jose before branching out to South America and Europe, said the best advice she has for an inspiring inventor is to “just ask.”

“A lot of people don’t ask for permission,” she said. “The power of asking is incredible.”

• Kristen East can be reached at keast@washingtontimes.com.

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