As a Web journalist, I don’t need many tools. Give me a laptop, a smartphone, and an Internet connection, and I’m basically a roving newsroom. But don’t ask me to make anything other than words: in my loft, the closest thing to a power tool is the kitchen blender. To build, say, a robot dog, I’d first have to spend thousands of dollars on design software and metalworking equipment.
Or at least, I would have until this week. Now there’s another option: I could just get a $100-per-month membership at TechShop, a craftsmen’s clubhouse that plans a “soft opening” of its new San Francisco location this weekend. TechShop has almost every conceivable tool at the ready, from design workstations to computer-controlled looms, laser cutters, commercial-grade sewing machines, welding equipment, injection molding machines, an electronics lab, and a full woodworking shop. It’s a DIY enthusiast’s paradise.
“Our mission is to engage, enable, and empower people to build their dreams,” says TechShop’s CEO, Mark Hatch.
That may sound like marketing-speak, but Hatch is as earnest as they come. He’s a business development ninja who once ran the computer services business at Kinko’s and has studied the ideas of sociologists and new-economy gurus like Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class) and Joseph Pine (Mass Customization, The Experience Economy, Authenticity). He’s convinced that Americans have a deep-rooted urge to make things with their hands, and that with the right tools, a significant minority could turn their basement-shop hobbies into real businesses. Which is why he believes that there’s a place in every major city for a fully tricked-out machine shop that functions on the Gold’s Gym model—that is, charging a flat monthly fee in return for unlimited access to TechShop’s space and equipment.
Those membership terms aren’t just an administrative convenience—they’re the cornerstone of the company’s business model and marketing philosophy. At Kinko’s, says Hatch, “the fascinating story that was about the community that developed between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.” This was back in the 1990s, when hordes of desktop-publishing professionals and design students would descend on Kinko’s stores every night because they couldn’t afford a $1,000 copy of Quark or Photoshop or their own laser printers. They’d end up helping one another and, in more than a few cases, going into business together. “The problem was that we charged by the hour, so you were incentivized to leave,” says Hatch. “If you want to create a movement to change the world and really help drive innovation and creativity, you need a ‘third place,’ as Starbucks likes to
describe itself. TechShop is a truly third place for creatives. The all-you-can-eat pricing model encourages you to hang out. You have no idea who you’re going to run into, but I guarantee it’s going to be interesting.”
The 800 people who’ve joined TechShop’s Menlo Park shop, which opened in October 2006, apparently agree. And Hatch’s belief that many makers join TechShop in order to turn their avocations into vocations isn’t just a theory anymore. Real companies like Dodocase, a San Francisco-based maker of premium iPad cases, and Clustered Systems, which makes high-tech cooling systems for data centers, have used TechShop as their launchpad. (There’s more on each of these companies below and in my audio interview with Hatch and Newton—see page 4.)
That track record has won the company big fans at places like theKauffman Foundation, which spends millions each year on the search for better ways to promote entrepreneurship. “Lots of people have great ideas, but many can’t act on them, because they lack the tools, equipment, and knowledge to turn those ideas into marketable products,” says Carl Schramm, the foundation’s president and CEO. “TechShop is a place where idea people can literally build their dreams today, becoming tomorrow’s inventors and entrepreneurs.”
TechShop exists because Jim Newton, a lifelong tinkerer and inventor, wanted a world-class shop for his own projects. “I was on Mythbusters for a year, so I had access to their shops. [Then] I was teaching at the local college, showing people how to make combat robots, and I just taught that class that so I could get access to the machine shop…When I got done with that gig, I didn’t have access to a shop, and I thought about what is it going to take to build my own shop.”
Newton could have paid for a full shop by going into the prototype fabrication business, but he didn’t want to work on other people’s projects. That was when he hit on the gym-membership concept. “If you think about this as a health club, it’s exactly the same,” he says. “There are some nuances, like safety and training. But there are no hourly charges for the equipment, with rare exceptions like the 3D printer, where you have to pay for materials, and the water-jet cutter, which costs $1 a minute to cover materials and disposal of the slurry. Everything else, it’s come and use it as much as you want.”
What makes the whole membership concept plausible, according to Hatch, is the last two decades’ revolution in computer-aided design and manufacturing software, which can help users analyze virtual prototypes right down to the level of specific materials. If you’re building an engine and you’re trying to decide whether to use Alcoa aluminum or Nucor aluminum, for example, the newest Autodesk systems “will allow you to model how your engine will perform based on the different melt temperatures,” says Hatch. “The ability to do that on software that I can train you on and have you producing products within weeks is new to the world. Fifteen years ago, you would have needed a $15,000 computer and $10,000 in software and six months of training.”
NOTE: TO READ THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE CLICK THE LINK LOCATED BELOW.
COMMENTARY: An entrepreneur, inventor and friend of mine mentioned TechShop to me earlier this month. I think TechShop is a great source for producing new invention prototypes and making all kinds of finished products.
TechShop has several pricing packages for individuals, families and corporate users. You can pay by the day or month Prices range between $75.00 per month for students to as much as $3,500 per year for corporate users.
TechShop provides additional services, including:
- 3D Printing
- Personal training
- Personal consulting
- Personal prototyping
Rates for services are $95.00 per hour with a two-hour minimum. There is also a $30.00 charge per hour for each additional attendee.
TechShop also offers classes in Arts and Crafts (ART), CNC (CNC), Electronics (EEE), Fabrication (FAB), Laser Cutting (LAS), Technology (TEC), Textiles (TXL), and Woodworking (WOD).
Many entrepreneurs are strapped financially, and TechShop provides a complete DIY facility where they can go and learn how to make things, build prototypes and manufacture finished products.
TechShop has three locations that are open for business. Two new locations are opening in Detroit, MI and San Jose, CA in 2011:
120 Independence Dr.
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Phone: 1 (800) 640-1975
TechShop Menlo Park is open 7 days a week 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnite.
TechShop SoMa, LLC
926 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 263-916
TechShop San Francisco is currently Open Noon to 10:00 PM 7 Days a Week during Phase 1 of their opening!
5905 Triangle Dr.
Raleigh, NC 27617
Phone: (919) 782-2344
Scott's Cell Phone (336) 460-7373
TechShop, Inc. - COMING WINTER 2011
120 Independence Dr.
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Toll Free: 1 (800) 640-1975
TechShop, Inc. - COMING WINTER 2011
800 Republic Drive (in the process of leasing this space)
Toll Free: Not Available
TechShop's motto is "Build Your Dreams Here," and this is a dream come true for craftsmen, do-it-yourselfer's, kids, designers, entrepreneurs and entire families.
Courtesy of an article dated December 16, 2010 appearing in Xconomy