First Recommendations from Data-Driven Plan to Support Makers in Shelby County to Roll Out this Fall

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (June 19, 2017) EPIcenter and Little Bird Innovation today announced the first recommendations from a plan focused on growing maker businesses and strengthening the maker community over the next three years in Memphis. The plan was developed using data from the Made By Project, first-of-its-kind qualitative and quantitative research of more than 300 makers, artisans and micro-manufacturers in Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn. The announcement comes during the National Week of Making, June 16-22, which highlights activities in communities throughout the United States that celebrate the innovation, ingenuity, and creativity of makers.

The Made By Project sought to understand the aspirations and needs of “makers,” or entrepreneurs creating and selling physical goods created at small scale in one of four sectors: packaged food and beverage; fashion and accessories; home goods; and technology and hardware. The resulting development plan outlines strategic and tactical solutions that are intended to create and coordinate programs and infrastructure to support maker businesses and to prepare those who want to scale to meet the demand for handcrafted and small-batch products.

Implementation of the plan’s entrepreneurial support recommendations will be led by EPIcenter, while Little Bird Innovation will continue to develop the maker network established through the Made By Project outreach. The first two recommendations within the plan, which fill infrastructure gaps within the maker ecosystem, are:

  • Business Plan Competition, Fall 2017: EPIcenter will seek entrepreneurs to build businesses around several of the recommended solutions within the development plan, including logistics-related solutions. These solutions not only address challenges identified through the Made By Project, but they also have the opportunity to leverage the region’s global logistics capabilities into a competitive advantage for Memphis-based makers. EPIcenter previously partnered with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative and U3 Advisors on the Operation Opportunity Challenge, which called for entrepreneurial solutions to challenges within Medical District anchor institutions. More information about the proposed solutions in the logistics space, application process, and competition prizes will be released in August of this year.
  • CO.STARTERS Cohorts, Late Summer and Winter 2017: CO.STARTERS is a nine-week program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn business ideas into action. Each week tackles the fundamentals of business owning and operating, such as intellectual property issues, customer discovery, customer relationships, pricing, break-even points, associated costs, maintaining financial records, creating a workable business plan, and more. EPIcenter will facilitate two CO.STARTERS cohorts in 2017 that are customized for makers and entrepreneurs who support the maker community. Winners of the business plan competition are expected to participate in one of the cohorts.

“By starting with known challenges that creative entrepreneurs face within our ecosystem and looking to entrepreneurs to solve those challenges with real businesses, we can exponentially strengthen our economy and our system of support,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO, EPIcenter. “Beyond these first initiatives, we’re looking forward to connecting makers – especially African American, Latino, and women makers – to more capital, customers, partner organizations, and programming in the region that can help them grow their businesses.”

Over the next three years, the development plan aims to grow the greater Memphis economy in new areas, specifically: the number of maker enterprises, especially by women and minorities; the diversity and quality standard of products; the number of micro-entrepreneurs scaling to small- and medium-sized businesses; the demand for skilled workers; and the brand perception of Memphis for making and creative enterprises.

“Together with EPIcenter, we are jointly committed to moving these proposed solutions forward, with the goals of realizing the economic potential of this segment and fostering a vibrant, thriving and inclusive community of makers and artisans across the region,” said Nicole Heckman, co-founder of Little Bird Innovation.  

In addition to entrepreneurial support, nominations are open for a Maker Council that will give strategic guidance and advice to help grow creative entrepreneurship in Memphis. Nominations of makers, including self-nominations, can be made through this link and are due on Friday, June 30.  

The Made By Project, results of which were released in February and served as the basis of the development plan, explored the following:

  • Data about makers in the region, including demographics, geographic location, the kinds of products made locally, and the business goals and aspirations of respondents
  • Assets and gaps in the area’s maker ecosystem, including sourcing, logistics, production, distribution and sales channels, as well as business support and skill-building services
  • Opportunities and challenges makers typically experience as they start a business
  • Distribution of makers across business stages, from hobbyist to reputable national or global brand, and the fundamental resources they need to succeed and grow

In December 2016, Etsy, a marketplace where people around the world connect, both online and offline, to make, sell and buy unique goods, named Memphis as a “Maker City.” Memphis is the fifth North American city to be named a Maker City, a designation given to a network of “strong municipalities that value entrepreneurship, sustainability, and responsible manufacturing with the creative and innovative spirit of the Etsy community,” according to A map of makers in Shelby County can be viewed here, and artisans, makers, and micro-entrepreneurs are invited to add themselves to the Memphis Maker map.


About EPIcenter

EPIcenter is the hub of the Greater Memphis entrepreneurship movement. With its network of partners, EPIcenter is the enabler of unified strategies to increase support to new and existing entrepreneurs for business growth. Serving as the broader voice of the partner network and a single point of accountability, EPIcenter measures and celebrates the impact of entrepreneurial support to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at

About Little Bird Innovation

Little Bird Innovation is a Memphis-based research, strategy and design firm focused on projects that drive economic development, social impact and civic innovation. We collaborate with others to tackle challenges that inspire us. From developing plans to support food entrepreneurship among immigrants and refugees to helping the Memphis public library system redefine its value and role in the lives of its residents, we bring a people-centered approach to solving complex problems. More information is at