Rutgers Partners with Goodwill to Help Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Market on Etsy

Rutgers Partners with Goodwill to Help Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Market on Etsy

Program participants design crafts with the help of university's Makerspace

An innovative partnership between Rutgers University and Goodwill Industries of Greater NY and NJ, Inc. recently launched a Makerspace Market on Etsy where entrepreneurs with disabilities design, produce and sell their merchandise.

Funded by a two-year grant from the Kessler Foundation of East Hanover, Goodwill has teamed with the Rutgers Center for Innovation Education, Rutgers Makerspace and the Economic Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development, part of Rutgers Business School, to create this market and advance job opportunities for the disabled.

“We work one-on-one with the students several days each week to teach them how to use the 3-D printer, laser cutter and the Arduino coding and electronics kits. It is thrilling for them to make their products and sell them face-to-face at craft fairs and online at Etsy,” says Kerry Lohorn, an instructor at Makerspace, a cooperative workspace on Rutgers' Livingston Campus. 

Etsy item
Etsy item created by Gabriel for the Maker Store. 
The Economic Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED) offers two Etsy craft workshops to teach entrepreneurs how to start an online shop for handcrafted items and connects crafters with mentors from local businesses to help with their plans. Makerspace then brings equipment to Goodwill's site in Harrison, N.J., and assists them with instruction and the operation of it.

“We provide a portable, scalable program that teaches those with barriers how to utilize modern rapid manufacturing equipment. They then transition this knowledge to an entrepreneurship venture. To see the delight and enthusiasm of the participants when they have sold something they have created is priceless,” says Stephen Carter, director of Rutgers Center for Innovation Education (RIE) and Makerspace.

Crafters have made signage, metal dog tags, acrylic ornaments, wood picture frames, etched glass candle holders, 3-D printed toys and acrylic key chains. The unique products are then sold on the Goodwill Etsy store.  Another participant, after creating a few signs for his church, has plans to start a sign making business.

Gabriel C., a participant in the program, longed to use the on-site 3-D modeling equipment to design his own creations in high school. But it was difficult for Clark, who has challenges with learning, to keep up with the rapid instruction.The highly imaginative student felt frustrated that he could not access a creative outlet.

Now, through the Goodwill program, he has access to a $1,500 3-D printer, a $5,000 laser cutter and other equipment, all with free, individualized instruction. He creates heart-shaped gift boxes and display cases for sale on Etsy and looks forward to expanding his product line.

“There is really no limit to what I can make with Makerspace," says Gabriel.  And I learn at my own pace. The program helps me make my own creative ideas a reality." 

“We are delighted to launch Makers Market at Goodwill, our own store on Etsy, to offer entrepreneurs with disabilities an online alternative to sell their products to jump-start their own business,” says Katy Gaul-Stigge, Goodwill NYNJ president and CEO. “We are grateful to our program partners for their support to offer business opportunities for individuals with disabilities and to create more inclusive communities."

The program is still seeking participants.  Anyone over 18 years of age who has a documented disability is welcome to apply to Goodwill of New York and New Jersey.