Below is an interview with Mel Fuller, co-founder of Ability Mate
What’s your story of how you got on the MCIC bus?
In 2014 a few friends and myself started MakersPlace Inc. located in Leichhardt, NSW. MakersPlace is a community ran shared resource equipping the community with the tools they need to create, tinker and make. In 2015 we got wind that UNSW was about to launch a centre which had a Makerspace. We found out that it would be open to community and free for use! As major advocates for the Maker Movement this news was very promising, we were excited by the potential of a University based centre that we could share knowledge and resources with. I popped into MCIC to introduce myself and to introduce MakersPlace. I was immediately welcomed and encouraged to come back again. So I did! The relationship very quickly evolved into a casual job which has supported me to do things like pay rent as I launched a start up called AbilityMate.
What projects are you working on at MCIC?
Design Thinking Workshops
I regularly facilitate design thinking workshops. I love working with “non-creatives” to help them learn and adapt a process to solve problems.
MateriaAustralia is an open source sustainable materials library. It’s purpose is to serve architecture, design and engineering students as well as professionals and practitioners with an accessible way of finding and understanding sustainable alternatives for their projects. A group of 20+ cross disciplined UNSW students and staff come together every Friday to learn skills through building the display, researching materials, developing relationships with industry and understanding the life cycle impact of materials.
Social Innovation Meet Up Group
In 2016 I ran weekly Social Innovation meet ups which attracted some of UNSW’s most inspirational students and staff members. This group provided an informal learning environment whereby like minded social innovators could test their ideas and learn from each other.
Precious Plastics Sydney
MCIC became Sydney’s first community to come together to build a series of plastic recycling machines. These machines were designed and released by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens so anyone can build and use to make products by recycling the plastic material. We used open source blueprints for the shredding machine to start working on a solution to deal with MCIC plastic pollution.
What is AbilityMate and how has MCIC helped in our startup journey?
AbilityMate is a purpose enterprise working towards a future where custom designed products can be accessed affordably and timely by people with disabilities. We design open-source solutions for the most-needed assistive products. Once developed we release the “blueprints” to cultivate global collaboration, transparency and continual innovation. We utilise and build our own cutting-edge technologies like 3D scanners, CAD modelling, and 3D printers. We collaborate with people who have disabilities, their families, clinicians and mission driven organisations to ensure our products are human centred, clinically safe and fulfil the needs of our community. Our model applies to many different devices. We have decided to begin with a focus on one of the greatest need areas, customised Orthotics for children.
MCIC has been pivotal to our success and impact. We frequently use the tools provided in the Makerspace which has lowered the barrier to entry and start up costs we would have otherwise faced. MCIC has also hosted us as Makers In Residence whereby we are provided with space and in return mentor and support UNSW students. We have also helped UNSW students with disabilities by co-creating bespoke products with them.
One of the most important roles the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre can play as part of the community is in our outreach. Forging connections and creating opportunities for young people, fostering creative learning, bringing people together, and recognising that ability and ideas can be found everywhere and are an investment in our collective future. Since its inception, we have consistently worked with local schools and collaborated with like minded organisations to provide creative learning experiences for young people, engage them in making and design and expose them to inspirational leaders and communities within and outside the university.
One of my fondest memories was the Mobile Maker space tour in November 2015. We toured to a series of rural venues around NSW Central West region in partnerships with Code Club, Three Farm, IDX, dLux Media Arts and Orana Arts to bring creative activities to a diverse audience in the region. By working to promote the maker movement, and engage locals of all ages, the mobile Makerspace generated a conversation about creative needs in the area. Through this program we reached hundreds of students in the area, planting the seed of both creative design and technology learning, and the aspiration for future study. It was also a priceless opportunity to road trip and spent 4 days with the MCIC team, we still reminisce and laugh at some funny times we had while making a difference.