NextFab hopes to help artisans’ businesses during the pandemic

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When COVID-19 hit, many organizations launched new programs aimed at lessening the fallout of the pandemic, including Philly’s own NextFab.

The local business offers the Philadelphia community access to high tech digital and traditional fabrication equipment and training through tools, classes and software for all levels. When the first wave of COVID-19 hit, NextFab launched an 8-week accelerator program for its entrepreneurially-minded members. The program’s main goal was to “provide artisans with the essential tools, support, and structure they need to build viable businesses.”

Now, NextFab’s new accelerator program is aimed at helping artisans grow their e-commerce stores during the remainder of the pandemic.

“Initially, we planned to make this program available only to existing members of NextFab, but we decided to open it up to the public, so that we can support even more artisans in these difficult times,” said Todor Raykov, who runs accelerator programs and venture initiatives at NextFab in a statement. “The program’s sessions are virtual and provided at no cost to the participants. In addition to business workshops, introductions to advisors and experienced entrepreneurs, accepted artisans receive free access to all NextFab locations for the duration of the experience. The only requirement is that the artisan applicants are already in business and generating between $100 and $5,000 in sales per month.”

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Todor and his team first launched the program successfully last spring in Wilmington, Delaware. Now, the program leader is bringing that model to the City of Brotherly Love. The virtual format of the training sessions made it possible for NextFab entrepreneurs in both cities to take advantage of the training, hone their marketing strategies and increase their online sales.

Through the 2020 Artisan Accelerator program, seven graduates were able to gain recognition for their businesses including Yemina Israel, founder of Addi Naturals; Gwanyan Barker, founder of Kpelle.Designs; Elana Webb, founder of You and Island; Cherné Altovise, founder of Cherné Altovise Jewelry; Jeremiah Jordan, founder of Confetti by JFrancis Designs; and Cody Huges, founder of Untitled_co.

Through the program, participants have been able to achieve different milestones such as scaling their business by 20%, gaining valuable resources and information, as well as jumpstarting their business into a more focused area of thought and direction and keeping their businesses sustainable—and that’s just from the program graduates themselves.

NextFab has been able to produce not only a successful program during the pandemic, but they also were involved with aiding the shortage of masks when the pandemic first hit in 2020 with CoverAid PHL. That organization was a coalition of representatives from hospitals, universities, manufacturers, government and small businesses collaborating on solutions for personal protective equipment. NextFab was one of a few different organizations working on that PPE problem.

“I was monitoring the news, and with NextFab being in the prototyping and product development services industry, we have contacts in manufacturing but also in area hospitals, so we knew about the need through those channels as well,” said Evan Malone, founder of NextFab, at the time. “I was starting to talk to organizations that NextFab deals with about what they were hearing and what opportunities they were seeing to reduce the challenges [for providing masks]—that was really what planted the seed in my mind to start contributing directly to production.

“The proverbial fixing an airplane while you’re flying it—those types of analogies are very apt here,” Malone continued. “A lot of grassroots efforts were underway—people were making masks, some were making respirators, or ventilators and all of these things were happening. I think what some of the immediate challenges we faced were a lack of connection to hospitals and other healthcare organizations to understand the need and what they could work with, or if any other projects would be interfering with each other’s effectiveness.”

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It’s that innovation that has be shown again and again that will continue to keep the Artisan Accelerator program on the successful track.

The next Artisan Accelerator program runs from March 24 to May 21, and will be held virtually. Candidates from the Greater Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware regions, who are selling custom, handmade, and unique goods, will have the opportunity to apply for acceleration between Jan. 18 and Feb. 21 via nextfab.com. To learn more about NextFab, visit nextfab.com or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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