By Tom Eblen
Suppose your company wants to make something, but you don’t have the equipment. Perhaps you can’t afford to buy it, or the quantity of goods you want to make wouldn’t justify the investment.
On the other hand, suppose your company has manufacturing equipment and staff, but they have blocks of idle time. Would you like to convert downtime into revenue?
That’s the idea behind MakeTime, a new Lexington company that has developed an online platform for matching manufacturers with excess capacity to customers willing to buy it. It is essentially a marketplace for by-the-hour machine time.
“The whole gist is to democratize manufacturing and the whole process of making things,” said Drura Parrish, the company’s Founder and CEO.
“Firms aren’t driving innovation anymore; people are,” he said. “There has to be a next step beyond prototyping so people can at least jump in and try out their ideas.”
MakeTime (Maketime.io) launched in November, and Parrish expects the company to arrange $2 million worth of gross transactions during its first year.
MakeTime has 14 full-time employees — half of whom are computer programmers in Ukraine; the rest work in Lexington — and Parrish expects to hire 11 more in the coming year.
So far, he said, MakeTime has signed up 80 manufacturing companies with $2 billion worth of capacity and is getting about 10 inquiries a day for buying their services.
I first met Parrish, 38, when he was teaching architecture and digital fabrication at the University of Kentucky’s College of Design. He came there with the former dean, Michael Speaks, from the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Parrish then started a company, which was recently dissolved, that worked with artists to turn their designs into objects for museum installations around the world. Much of that work was done in an old industrial building on East Third Street, where Parrish also operated a contemporary art gallery called Land of Tomorrow, one purported translation of the Native American word for Kentucky.
Although trained in art and design, Parrish comes from a third-generation manufacturing family in Henderson. His grandfather was a tenant farmer who got into the lumber business, creating what is now Scott Industries.
Parrish said he started doing a sort of pre-Internet version of MakeTime when he was in graduate school.
“I noticed there were a bunch of people with a bunch of machines that sat idle at times, and a bunch of people who wanted to make things and thought they needed to buy equipment,” he said. “I became the literal marketplace. I bought up capacity time and started marketing it.”
Parrish and Dima Strakovsky, who had been a partner in Land of Tomorrow, started developing MakeTime’s online platform, where manufacturers can list their available capacity, clients can list their needs, and they can be quickly matched for jobs.
MakeTime’s revenues come from a fee of 15 percent of the transaction amount, paid by the seller.
“Our DNA is still design and art,” Parrish said, noting that many of the company’s employees have design backgrounds, so are trained to be problem-solvers.
Parrish said Lexington is an ideal location for the company, although he couldn’t find enough local software programmers and ended up going overseas for help.
“Within a four-hour ring of Lexington you have just about every manufacturer in the country,” he said. “We’re committed to staying here. The only problem is with programmers.”
Parrish said he has had a lot of help getting started from the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. and state and local economic development organizations.
But while MakeTime had a couple of Kentucky “angel” investors, much of its startup capital came from New York. Parrish said the shallow pool of local investment capital, and the conservative nature of many local investors, is limiting the ability of entrepreneurs to flourish here.
“It can be hard to believe in the people who are near you,” Parrish said. “But it’s a matter of getting the right resources to grow. The risk of loss is often small, and the potential return is great.”