TechShop Inc. is considering Grand Rapids as its next location to launch a $4 million makerspace that would allow anyone with the proper training to use sophisticated equipment and software to make personal projects from metal, plastics, textiles and other materials.
“It’s a gym for creatives,” TechShop CEO Dan Woods told a group of about 60 people last night who were attending a Grand Rapids Inventors Network monthly meeting. “But instead of having equipment to work out, we have equipment to build your dreams.”
With 227 full-time staff and 175 part-time employees, TechShop has 11 high-end fabrication studios in metro Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis, Austin, Redwood City, Calif., Chandler, Ariz. and Brooklyn. Based in San Jose, TechShop also has international locations in Paris, Tokyo and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Woods said the company’s Director of Market Assessments Amber Ross and Project Manager Olga Pogoda will be compiling information about the Grand Rapids market during the next six weeks to determine if it is feasible for TechShop to open a location here. The company will make a decision shortly thereafter, and it would take about 15 months to open the doors if the project proceeds.
Chances favor that Grand Rapids will be selected: Out of the past 13 assessments, only 2 locations have been rejected.
“Grand Rapids has a reputation for being is a very happening city,” Woods said. “You have this wonderful collision here between the creatives and artists and engineers and technical people who know how to make things. And the people here believe in investing in infrastructure.”
With a population of about 194,000, Grand Rapids proper may be the smallest city considered by TechShop for a location. The business model may generally follow the same path as Chandler, a city with population of about 261,000 which touts itself on its website as “the Innovation and Technology Hub of the Southwest.”
But Woods pointed out that Grand Rapids was selected for assessment because the city has a metropolitan area of more than 1 million people, depending on how the area is defined, while “there really isn’t that much population density once you get outside of Chandler itself.”
Woods said TechShop needs at least 780 members to be a sustainable operation, with monthly memberships running on the average of $120 per month. Stakeholders include individual makers, local governments and quasi-public agencies, community colleges and universities, and corporations.
The Chandler location came about through an alliance between ShopTech, the city of Chandler and Arizona State University’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The ASU Chandler Innovation Center is located in downtown Chandler at the city’s former public works yard.
In Grand Rapids, Woods sees good potential from various stakeholders. “The first group are the ‘build-it-and-they-will-come’ people -- you almost have to bolt the doors to keep them out,” he said. Additional partners here may include the city of Grand Rapids, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and corporations that would buy memberships for their engineering and technical staff.
TechShop provides -- and strictly requires -- that individuals who want to use water jet cutters, laser cutters, large rotary metal punches, spot welders, vinyl cutters, industrial sewing machines, vacuum formers, mills, lathes and other equipment to go through standardized training by professional paid instructors. Individuals pay for the instruction above their monthly subscription.
Equipment alone is $1 million, while the whole facility will cost between $3.8 million and $4.5 million to launch, Pogoda said.
Universities and colleges that have their own workshops and laboratories have become partners because they recognize that a TechShop facility allows alumni and students from any discipline to use equipment to invent. “Once you graduate, you don’t have access to those world-class workshops anymore,” Woods said.
Corporations become partners because a TechShop facility may have machine tools that they don’t already own or are tied up during the normal business day with tasks like maintenance of production equipment.
Regardless of the equipment and design software provided at a location, members consistently say that the single most valuable asset they find at TechShop is interaction with other makers, Woods said. “We have more than 6,000 members, and they consistently say that it’s about the people they meet.”