Tech's Playground for Adults
Tucked among Crystal City’s bustling shopping and eating areas is the newest TechShop. Anyone with a hankering to build the next big thing now has a place to go play with $1M worth of manufacturing equipment and tools.
This is how a ribbon cutting is done when your business is providing a do-it-yourself design and fabrication space. Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation’s Patrick Littlefield cuts a steel ribbon with a handheld plasma cutter at yesterday's official opening of TechShop on Crystal Drive in Arlington, Va. You could make anything from furniture and clothing to wearable computers and mobile devices. The Arlington location has already sold over 500 individual memberships at $125-$175 a month or $1,400 for the year. (Military and veterans get a discount.) Corporate and university partnerships that include several hundred memberships are in the works.
Vornado’s Mike Weiss, Mitchell Schear, and Wright Sigmund helped TechShop COO Dan Woods (far right) find 22k SF. Isabella Musachio is serving as GM. Vornado has been working on making Crystal City a tech and innovation hub. It helped establish the Crystal Tech Fund and the office space where some of the companies it invests in are housed and is working with WeWork to create apartments for entrepreneurs. Dan says he looked at many spots in the DC region and had several requirements: It had to be on one floor, it needed roll up doors, good public access, and safety. TechShop spent over $1.2M on tenant improvements, including putting in windows so people could see the work going on. He really likes that the elevators for PBS's HQ opens at a long row of windows looking in at TechShop. Dan says the space is different from its other TechShops because it’s in a pure retail area.
TechShop was started in 2006. Dan says despite heavy upfront investment, each shop is profitable within 12 months. And at least two of the eight TechShops are net income positive. The company plans to have 12-15 by the end of the year. (President Obama spent time yesterday visiting the Pittsburgh shop.) He says there needs to be more "maker" spaces, not just from TechShop. The model is to find partners willing to put money into standing up a TechShop by buying a certain amount of memberships for their employees or students.
Dan Ryan started a repurposing business out of the TechShop in Detroit. The military vet (20 years in and five deployments) takes things that don’t function anymore like a broken bike or a discarded piece of wood and makes it into functional pieces, including furniture, picture frames, card holders, and cool art. He started selling the pieces on Etsy and at farmers markets. Using TechShop allows makers to bridge the gap from big manufacturing to prototype, he adds. He has since moved back to his home state of Iowa and hopes to eventually get a TechShop in his community. John Deere has a large presence there and could potentially be a partner, says Dan.