Here's What's Cooking in a Few of the Country's Hottest Design Incubators

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By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
Regional incubators are helping independent designers learn the basics of how to scale up and succeed—and boost the local economy.

The hardest part of getting a successful business off the ground isn’t hatching the next Big Idea, it’s the execution.

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Participants in First Batch, a design-oriented business accelerator in Cincinnati, Ohio, have access to a shared workspace. Matt Anthony (standing) and Katie Garber of First Batch chat with Tim Karoleff, the founder of Ampersand.

"While starting a company seems the scariest, figuring out how to grow and stay sustainable offers the most challenging decisions," says Matt Anthony, director of the nonprofit Cincinnati Made and program manager of First Batch, an accelerator which helps designers move a product from prototype to production. Launched in 2013, First Batch is one of the many local organizations across the United States helping designers and manufacturers build the networks, relationships, and infrastructure they need to thrive.

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Ohio

Punk soap dish by Ampersand, $29 ampersandbrand.com

"There’s a significant impact in building the large base of the new companies that have been popping up since the recession," Anthony says. At First Batch, designers are offered access to a shared workspace and can expect to learn how to meet and vet fabricators, structure their companies, master social media, and explore sales and distribution channels. 

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Michigan

Black Dial and White by the Canvas Watch Company, $295 each canvaswatch.com

The Canvas Watch Company participated in DC3’s Creative Ventures Residency and, like the Detroit Wallpaper Company, is affiliated with Detroit Made. Galanter & Jones and Ohio are two of the 568 local manufacturers that are part of SFMade.

Matthew Clayson, director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, or DC3, an economic-development organization, says forging relationships is key. "Every city has its own hurdles," he says, "but the overarching theme is how to efficiently connect makers and designers to manufacturers.   Nationally, we need to take an integrated view that design and manufacturing go hand in hand and are part of a complex supply chain. Neither the creative industries nor the manufacturing industries can operate in a silo." To that end, DC3 is at work on two new platforms, Creative.co—a virtual design-services agency—and Detroit Made—a member-led platform to help promote and connect designers; both are launching in 2015.

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California

Round Pedestal tables by Ohio Design, $499–$549 ohiodesign.com

SFMade, another local economic-development organization, launched in 2010 with 12 member companies. Now the nonprofit counts 568 certified businesses that produce within San Francisco’s city limits. From a retail map of shops selling locally made goods to a directory of the city’s manufacturers and a listing of available production spaces, SFMade’s initiatives center around disseminating information. "We need to continue to create and strengthen an ecosystem that supports design, development, and manufacturing," says Janet Lees, senior director at SFMade. 

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Michigan

Origami Metallic Grasscloth by the Detroit Wallpaper Company, $10 per square foot detroitwallpaper.com

Over in Oakland, the nearly two-year-old tech company BriteHub has come to the table with a digital solution that builds upon the work of manufacturing alliances like First Batch, DC3, and SFMade. Dorian Ferlauto, BriteHub’s founder and an industry veteran, saw a common challenge for burgeoning companies: They had demand, but they couldn’t manufacture enough or at prices people would buy. "It’s about connecting designers that have consumer demand with domestic suppliers that can help them move into that new realm," she says. "We’re trying to create efficient tools for people to build relationships, so they can start getting stuff done right away." 

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California

Evia heated outdoor lounge chair by Galanter & Jones, $5,900 galanterandjones.com