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The latest TechShop, located in Allen Park, Michigan will give hopeful inventors access to unparalleled resources (right to left -- Ford's Christopher Danowski, TechShop's Jim Newton and AutoHarvest's Jayson Pankin).  (Source: Ward's Auto)

The new innovation center will give anyone from the laid off auto worker (pictured) to the new college grad the ability to create their own startup.  (Source: Reuters)
New Detroit area workshop offers novice makers a chance to affordably experiment, learn, and dream

DailyTech had the privilege of attending a special event on Thursday put on jointly by Ford Motor Company (F) and TechShop, which pulled the curtains off a special new home for invention and innovation.

I. Choose Your Own Invention

TechShop is an unusual national incubator project, which looks to help "everyday inventors, from backyard tinkerers to tech-savvy engineers, can come and create their very-own homegrown innovations."

At the presentation, TechShop's founder Jim Newton said the goal was to eventually put a tech shop in every large community across the U.S.

The new Detroit facility is located in Allen Park, roughly 15 minutes east of the city of Detroit.  It joins centers Menlo Park, San Jose, and San Francisco, California and another facility in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Locations in Portland, Oregon; Brooklyn, New York; and Los Angeles, California, are also planned after the Michigan center is completed.

The new workshop in Detroit (Allen Park) will officially open in November of this year.  People can enroll for a low $100/month fee -- about the "cost of a gym membership" -- as Mr. Newton put it.  That fee gives members access to the shop's technical experts and over $1M USD in high tech tools, such as laser and high-pressure water cutting systems, CNC mills, and 3D printers.  Members sign up for special training classes, which teach safety and the basics of operation of the advanced tools.

Current TechShops draw a diverse crowd -- from installation artists looking for a place to cut and form materials to do-it-yourself clothing artists to more traditional mechanical device inventors.

Some success stories include Andy Filo who built his own homemade jetpack; Lightning Motorcycles founder Ken Newton, builder of the world's fastest electric motorcycle; Michael Pinneo, who made a desktop diamond-making machine; Sam Waldbaum who devloped lunar regolith extraction (aka moondust mining devices) devices; Karen Synders who launched a business selling laser-cut bamboo sewing guides; Patrick Buckley who made the iPad DoDo case, which today sells $3M USD in product and counts U.S. President Barack Obama as one of its customers; glass-blower turned smart phone gadget-maker James McKelvey who launched the Square NFC credit-card billing add-on for current generation smart phones; and Phil Hughes, whose server cooling research helped to spawn what's expect to become a $1B USD business.

Ford and TechShop hope to add to that growing list at the new location.

II. New Location has Auto Theme

As Detroit is the "Motor City" the pair are teaming up with AutoHarvest, a local organization that promotes new inventors in the automotive field.  DailyTech spoke with AutoHarvest President and CEO Jayson Pinkin, who said that Ford and the many other corporate co-sponsors were essential to the project, given the reduced state funding for tech incubator projects in Michigan.

He emphasized that TechShop not only helps inventors, invent, but also puts them in touch with the people they need to network with to protect their intellectual property and sell it.  He told us that they were anticipating renting office space at the facility for anywhere from $50,000 USD/month for large businesses, to the "price of a plane ticket" per month for smaller ones.  This "sliding scale" model, is designed to maintain profitability for the center, while lowering costs barriers for market entry.

Given the large number of laid off skilled workers in the Detroit are who have been dropped from automotive manufacturing jobs, this center could be their ticket to becoming a successful entrepreneur.  Likewise, it should be a hit with graduate college students.  In fact, sponsoring partners including Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Ohio State University.

Attending the TechShop event, we got the impression that there's still a lot of work to doin order to get the center off the ground and thriving.  We also came away very impressed, though, at the low price and broad resources available for new tinkerers.  This was our first real in-depth experience with the nation-wide movement, so we're looking forward to seeing what new inventions come out of the Allen Park center.


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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Is this guy in touch with reality?
By theapparition on 8/1/2011 9:51:41 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
People can enroll for a low $100/month fee -- about the "cost of a gym membership" -- as Mr. Newton put it.

At which gym does the membership cost $100/month?

I do think it's a cool idea giving people access to equipment that they normally wouldn't be able to use, but not sure of the do-it-yourself approach. Most people shouldn't legally be allowed to operate a can opener, much less a plasma cutter.




By Inspirod on 8/1/2011 5:50:39 PM , Rating: 2
The gym topic is mentioned to help people quickly understand the business model. I think its more related to the fact that gyms have expensive machines that people pay monthly to use...exactly same model techshop has proposed AND proven already (through their 4 other shops).

I agree that there are hundreds-of-thousands of people who would damage equipment or people; however, I believe you're ignoring the tens of thousands of highly technical blue and white collar professionals who live in metropolitan Detroit, some of which, may be smarter than you and I combined.


By Plugers on 8/1/2011 5:51:37 PM , Rating: 2
How could somebody not be able to figure out a plasma cutter in 30 seconds to 1 minute. There is nothing difficult about it.


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