During his European tour of social and solidarity initiatives, Thomas Tichadou (We Can Be Heroes) met Dávid Pap, founder of Fablab Budapest. Makery gives you extracts of this interview.
Following his travels from July to November 2017, meeting actors of change, Thomas Tichadou designed and published We Can Be Heroes, a series of portraits of citizens committed to social innovation (we told you about it here). Makery suggested to Thomas to publish most of his meeting with Dávid Pap, 35, founder of Fablab Budapest in Hungary.
How was the Fablab Budapest project created?
I worked for the Hungarian institutions and government for a long time as an economist and in charge of research programs in innovation. Our main support tool consisted in injecting public subsidies in entrepreneurial projects. I didn’t feel at ease with this development concept to make initiatives emerge. I stopped everything in 2009 to create Fablab Budapest with five other people, a place of exchange and creation around technology, science and design. Everything we do here is linked to open innovation. Our community counts more than 3,000 people, 140 of which are regular contributors. We are four employees and I have now been handling the management of the fablab for three years.
How did you discover fablabs?
It’s a funny story. I met a girl studying architecture in IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, in Barcelona. I visited her and she showed me their institute’s fablab, Fablab Barcelona. I was shocked and I got the idea to create my own fablab here in Budapest.
With the Fablab Budapest, what is the issue you want to solve?
It’s very easy. Here in Hungary, there are a lot of good minds, but no accessible tools and places. There is a lack of resources and space to create. People need support of course, but they particularly need a place to work on their project. Our fablab tries to make it real without asking any interests or profit-sharing in these projects. Makers are totally free.
What is open innovation for you?
I think my personal example really illustrates our vision of open innovation. All the things that I have built were born in this fablab. Everything I know about technology and manufacturing. I was learning modeling and programming and now I’m learning woodworking. It means that if you give access to knowledge for people who have a will to learn and to create, Fablab Budapest could give them tools to carry their projects out. People are coming to us, they want to learn because they want to create. They learn thanks to a kindly community where they can find advice, ideas and partners. After, they are able to use this knowledge and maybe share it.
What difficulties have you encountered when you developed your project?
Fablab is not a legal entity here in Hungary, it’s more like a brand. When we started, we needed to make a decision if we wanted to create an association or a foundation. I think both are not perfect entities for a fablab. If you are an association or a foundation, you are looking for grants. Everything you see here has been bought by revenues we earned from services we provide within the fablab, not by grants. Finally, we had some offers from venture capital funds. They proposed €150,000 to make it as a startup company, but we had so many questions how it could be done, what could be the output to take this investment, or something that you’re not sure you are going to do. So, we declined the offer. But, we discovered that if you do prototyping and design for others, you can ensure a revenue for the fablab.
What is your business model?
Our business model had changed so many times from the moment we started. The first idea was to keep the prices low and to have a lot of users. Actually the business model was not well settled. When we discovered prototyping could bring enough revenue to finance the fablab, our business model changed dramatically. Now I think we could say that the 3 main pillars are services for companies (B2B), community and education.
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Fablab Budapest provides services for other companies, like Siemens. Concerning our membership system, we have two options: if you have a file but you don’t want to realize your piece by your own, we can make it for you as a service. You will be charged for the materials and operation costs. If you want to do it by yourself, you have to participate to a workshop to learn how to use the machines and how to work with different materials. You pay for the workshop and the use for the tools but prices will be highly reduced. Finally, I’m giving classes for MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design). We also teach technology in schools and students come here. Education is the key because you are both sharing knowledge and building your community. If you want to create a fablab, you have to form a community. The best way to do it, is democratizing technology within education.
Fablab Budapest is a service provider, but a lot of compagnies create their own fablab. What do you think?
It’s a good news because it democratizes the fablab concept. We work together with some of their fablabs. They develop fablabs on purpose because they want to give a chance for workers to work on projects which could be useful for the company. Fablab can’t be a top-down initiative. They could work in a way, but not in a long-term perspective because fablabs need a community to thrive.
What could weaken Fablab Budapest or put an end to the project?
When you start something, you manage your activity in real-time. And if it grows bigger than you, the structure need to be changed. The structure needs to be changed and scaled up because now we miss opportunities, as we can’t be present everywhere. And we also need to rethink our operational structure and the rules of the internal governance. That’s why we need to recruit someone to reinforce the management. Then, we have a lot of activities, we need to assign only one project per people in order to be more effective. I prefer contributing to the strategic part of Fablab Budapest. Multitasking is also limited.
Our external limits could be the behavior of companies we work for. Each of them need different treatments. So we are dependent on their requests and we need to quickly adapt our offer. That’s why we need to be more structured: to be more flexible and effective.
What about your next projects?
We are building a fablab network, because I think knowledge should be shared. I would like to manage a second fablab, here in Budapest, but more focused on entrepreneurship needs. Wherever you work, you have to find what makes you happy. I like drawing up and implement projects. So I needed a place where I can unleash my creativity. Here, I’m managing the place and I’m working on my own project, it’s woodworking. It means both solving complex problems and making simple actions like woodworking.
Fablab Budapest, Eötvös u. 29., Budapest, 1067