Have you been considering getting in on the “maker movement”?
Across the U.S. and around the world, hundreds of groups have been forming, both in independent spaces and commercial sites, to connect dedicated inventors, designers, fabricators, and anyone looking to make their brainstorms a physical reality. Think of hundreds of budding Thomas Edison laboratories popping up, drawing tinkerers once relegated to garages, kitchen tables, and basement computers into common spaces to share their trials and errors and learn new technologies.
Many entrepreneurs have been drawn to these hubs of creativity, known as hackspaces, hacklabs, or makerspaces. Some spots offer not only access to tools, computer-controlled construction machines, and software, but also legal and tech gurus on an hourly basis—resources that might otherwise cost thousands of dollars. Startups in particular are finding their early footing in these tech-savvy shops, honing prototypes and gaining knowledge shared by members steeped in robotics, electronics, mechanics, crafts, engineering, 3D printing, and the ins and outs of patents. It’s also smart networking. Among the promising companies born in these parts: MakerBot, the 3D-printer maker founded by three members of Brooklyn’s NYCResistor hackspace.
Where can you get your feet wet? Here is a look at a few places, large and small, where America’s makers are coming together. (Find more at hackerspaces.org)
Maker Faire It’s the best entree to this DIY world. This traveling global roadshow attracts local Makers and enables them to mix and show off their wares. And now with General Electric, General Motors, Disney, Google, Radio Shack, and Red Bull sponsoring events, business titans are also paying attention to what any metro area’s tinkerers are ginning up. It’s run by Make magazine and the gatherings are family-friendly.
TechShop With six spaces across the nation, TechShop is the best known of the hackspace retail world. It’s the best stocked and staffed to match that professional status. Struggling to craft that prototype you’ve been drawing? Sign up for a session with one of their “Dream Consultants,” who can be hired to use their on-site machinery to produce your Project X. Or try one of the dozens of classes on everything from injection molding and welding to CNC Machining 101 and embroidering electronics into textiles. Memberships are available on a monthly or annual basis, averaging $125 a month or $1,200 a year, depending on the location.
These are the granddaddies of the U.S. hackspace movement. Following in the footsteps of longstanding German and Austrian tech-enthusiast collectives, these three sites popped up on U.S. shores starting in 2007. Each has long rosters of members and classes. Plus, given their locations, all are well-connected with the local business communities.
Membership: NYC Resistor starts at $75 per month; HacDC is $50 a month; Noisebridge’s rates begin at $40 per month
Maker Works (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
A new site opened this past summer offering tools for metals, circuitry, woodworking, and craft equipment for industrial sewing and embroidering as well as laser cutters.
Membership: Individuals can go by the day ($35), month ($90), or year ($900). For businesses, two people are $180 per month or $1,600 a year.
Of interest: Check out the Crafting the Small Business series, which is nine sessions dedicated to connecting hand-made crafters with experienced small business owners who have gone before them.
ADX Portland (Portland, Ore.)
A 10,000-square-foot space supported by some 500 members, ADX isn’t just about the industrial arts. Aside from its extensive lineup of tools, it touts itself as “building a community of thinkers and makers.” It’s an innovation incubator, housing co-working spaces for $350 a month, an in-house design and branding team, business and marketing consulting sessions, and a comprehensive list of classes (Welding for Women, anyone?).
Membership: Full access for one day is $40. A basic monthly membership is also $40, with annual packages ranging from $150 to $300.
Of interest: ADX may be the only makerspace with an on-site taproom (in a lounge far from the machinery, it’s worth pointing out). Innovators can gather in the Ninkasi Better Living Room for a taste of the, of course, local artisanal craft beer.
HammerSpace (Kansas City, Mo.)
It’s not just hammers. This former telephone switching station turned community workshop launched in mid-2011 and focuses on practical machinery needed by artists, builders, and entrepreneurs, with a comprehensive tool list. There are numerous classes and an enthusiastic leadership that focuses on instructive creativity—such as sculpting jack o’lanterns with laser, soldering LED-equipped holiday ornaments—and welcomes instructors from local businesses.
Membership: A day pass is $25; $40 a month for an individual; $400 for a year.
Of interest: There’s a kids’ area, the Little Makers Lounge, with plenty of building tools and an ’80s-style Ms. Pac-Man video game table.
i3 Detroit (Ferndale, Mich.)
The name derives from “imagine, innovate, and inspire” at this nonprofit collective just outside the Motor City. I3 is well stocked when it comes to tools, filled with instruments from the region’s abundant industrial legacy. There are also modern staples, like its MakerBot 3D printers. Members have drawn notice from Popular Mechanics for their inventions in the magazine’s DIY competition and have won awards for their—you guessed it—creations on wheels.
Membership: Starting at $39 a month.
Of interest: An electrical-engineer member’s Mind Flame invention was lauded by the local Henry Ford Museum.
Pumping Station: One (Chicago)
Your friendly neighborhood tech geek hangout. This North Side spot moved to a larger location in 2010 to accommodate its extensive machinery, including 3D printing gear, woodworking, metalcraft, and brewing tools. Wrote one blogger for Technology Industry News - Chicago, “I see lots of startups that are straight-laced professionals with hard-core business models, yet try hard to appear laidback, hip and offering an environment of innovation. But Hackerspace, probably due to their not-for-profit status and core objective of being a place to explore ideas…really is a laidback, hip environment where innovation and playfulness is in the air.”
Membership: $70 per month, $700 per year.
Of interest: Sunday afternoon “Beer Church,” a BYO group conversation about the latest in technology and science, followed by experiments to create their own brews.