#OpenCoffeeLou 65: Does Louisville need a TechShop? Does it want one?

Felicia Allen, Bryce Butler, Kelby Price and Suzanne Bergmeister

Felicia Allen, Bryce Butler, Kelby Price and Suzanne Bergmeister

This week’s Open Coffee featured lawyer and consultant Felicia Allen, Kelby Price of Forge and Pivyt, and Bryce Butler of Samtec and Blue Sky_Network, three of around 10 people who recently took a “field trip” to Detroit to visit TechShop. University of Louisville’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Suzanne Bergmeister, also went on the field trip and moderated the discussion.

TechShop is a chain of membership-only tech workshops that allows members to come in and use industrial tools and equipment to build their own projects. TechShops also feature workshops and certification lessons.

TechShop was founded in San Francisco in 2006 by Jim Newton, a former science advisor from the television show “Mythbusters.” There are seven locations now, and they are looking to open 20 more.

At a TechShop you can fabricate in just about any medium. There is equipment for working with metal, textiles, glass, electronics, wood and more.

The conversation at Open Coffee explored the utility and culture of TechShop and how it would interplay with LVL1 in the regional community. LVL1 is Louisville’s hackerspace.

“Last thing we want to do is to be a community divided,” said Bergmeister.

The conversation should be about growing our resources, according to Allen, who said, “We’re not drinking the Techshop water yet.” The discussion was about doing “due diligence.”

Butler said the field trip purposely included people from around the region, including a professor from Purdue and a staff member at One Southern Indiana.

Often big corporations often pay for their employees to have memberships to TechShop, Bergmeister explained; just like some corporations pay for gym memberships for their employee’s physical wellbeing, memberships to TechShop are about creative wellbeing.

Both GE and Ford have relationships with TechShops in other locations and those relationships would likely extend to a Louisville location. Sometimes universities provide engineering students with memberships as part of their tuition — the University of Arizona is one of those schools.

According to one report, Ford employees who were members submitted 40 percent more patent applications than non-members.

TechShop memberships are national. Once you’re a member you can work out of any TechShop. Your membership badge records which machines you’re certified on.

Alex Frommeyer of Beam Technologies asked how many members were tinkerers vs. people working on commercial pursuits. Price said it was about 80 percent commercial, but it varied by location.

Butler and Theo Edmonds of I.D.E.A.S.40203 discussed the fact that a TechShop branch could be a draw for people seeking to relocate to Louisville, whether they’re makers or artists.

Brad Luyster of LVL1 said, “I agree that it’s important to grow this ecosystem,” but he wanted to know why the panel didn’t think LVL1 could do the job of growing those resources. He said that civic leaders already bring business people to LVL1 and use LVL1 as a selling point for the city.

The panel was quick to say they think LVL1 and TechShop can and should co-exist.

Price said people at TechShop are not doing “crazy shit” like LVL1 or even supporting crazy ideas. Sometimes structure gets in the way of creativity.

Butler said it’s harder for companies and universities to partner with LVL1 because it is free form. Companies and industries want to see certifications and rules.

LVL1 is open 24 hours, Allen noted, and TechShop is fully staffed and has hours.

Photographer Nick Roberts, a member of LVL1, said LVL1 should never have have that structure. It would stifle creativity.

When LVL1 was created, Luyster said they wanted to “create an unwalled garden.” He said Louisville has all these great resources but they don’t “know each other” and that there are often “good old boy networks that determine how we get access. We could do a lot by connecting those resources.” He cited resources at both U of L and Purdue.

Lawyers are never going to let academic institutions open doors to non-students, Allen said: “That’s the nature of lawyers.”

Frommeyer said that the Rapid Prototyping Center at U of L is “dead because no one is using it.” A more-than-TechShop-sized investment has been made in Louisville in the RPC but it’s underutilized, he said.

TechShop would like to see 1,000 members before they move into a region. Corporations that are interested include Samtec, Ford and GE.

TechShops are currently opening soon in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Memberships vary by location, but you can expect it to be in the $100/month ballpark.

(It’s worth noting that two TechShops — one in Portland, Ore., and one in Durham, N.C.– have gone bankrupt, both, at least in part, because of poor real estate decisions.)

Upcoming Events:

  • April 1: 8 p.m. Hardware Meet Up at LVL1
  • April 1: 5:30 p.m. I.D.E.A.S.40203 Mix and Pivot at Youthbuild. Also help their IndieGoGo Campaign to send 2 YouthBuild students to study at the Versailles royal gardens.
  • April 2: 11:30 a.m. Venture Connectors lunch with guest speaker Geoffrey Rappaport, founder of Supercuts, talking about franchising.

For more events visit Startup Louisville.

8 a.m. Monday
iHub, 204 S. Floyd Street
Free parking: in the Nucleus lot between Preston & Floyd, enter from Floyd St.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OpenCoffeeLou
Twitter: @startupLou

Next week’s moderator: Greg Langdon