TechShop, a training studio for techies, opening in Larimer
A branch of the national organization will encourage veterans and novices to explore tech fields
February 17, 2013 5:00 AM
An employee of TechShop sets up mig welders Friday in preparation for the opening of the DIY workshop and fabrication studio for artists, machinists, inventors or dabblers in Bakery Square.
By Deborah M. Todd Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Veterans and other inventors who are only a pricey software program or unwieldy welding station away from seeing their visions become reality will have a new partner in Larimer next month.
TechShop -- a nationally renowned workshop and fabrication studio that provides equipment, training and mentorship to people hoping to explore technical and technology trades -- will open its first Pennsylvania facility in Larimer's Bakery Square on March 2.
The membership-based organization gives access to training classes and state-of-the-art equipment, ranging from computers to 3-D printers and laser cutting machines, for $100 a month. Keeping safety a top priority, members must attend a two- to three-hour class for each piece of equipment they use and must swipe in with an electronic pass key to verify they're eligible each time they use equipment.
And while the latest addition to Bakery Square will certainly draw Google-minded engineers and software aficionados, military veterans hoping to transition to new careers will be a top priority.
The organization's Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., branches were planned as part of an investment agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The partnership will give 2,000 veterans across the country free one-year memberships to the nearest TechShop.
"This agreement will allow even more innovators, especially veterans, to have access to the tools and services they need to participate in the design and build process," said Jonah Czerwinski, senior adviser to the secretary of Veterans Affairs and director of the VA Innovation Initiative in a press release.
In addition to its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and Pittsburgh, TechShop has locations in San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Raleigh, N.C.; Detroit; and Austin, Texas. Branches in New York City and Chandler, Ariz., are still in the planning stages.
Dan Woods, TechShop chief operating officer, said while the organization hadn't targeted Western Pennsylvania until the investment agreement with DARPA and the VA came through, they've landed in exactly the type of space they usually seek out.
"This is just an absolutely perfect location," Mr. Woods said.
He said the organization conducts regular market analysis to look for areas within a 30-mile radius of high population centers that are thought of as creative communities. Combining those elements with Bakery Square's retail shops makes just the right place for TechShop to attract the right people.
"We like locations where people who don't normally see a lot of machines and tools will stumble across them. We think there are a lot of aspiring makers out there we can engage in retail locations," he said.
Long before opening its doors, TechShop has already gotten an enthusiastic response from locals who began snagging memberships as Christmas presents in early December. And while many who called were securing memberships for university professors or other professionals, others joined to explore new artistic or creative endeavors. One popular use for the laser cutting machine is using it to etch words and designs into glass, metal or bamboo for one-of-a-kind wedding invitations.
"A lot of the machines here can be used not just for hard arts and industrial stuff but arts in general," he said.
Standing amid newly unwrapped welding tables and laser printers, Mr. Woods said the process of renovating the 17,500-square-foot space would be complete by March 2. In total, he said, the organization would spend approximately $1 million renovating the space and an additional $1 million for equipment and materials.
If the past is any indicator, that investment could spur new community development. Founded in 2006, the organization has already seen major companies come out of its membership of nearly 4,100.
Square, a San Francisco-based electronic payments company that reads credit cards from a miniature scanner that plugs into smartphones and tablets, and the Dodocase, a high-end iPad case designed to look like a book, were born out of TechShops across the country.
In 2012, Dodocase had 30 employees in San Francisco and generated 36 million in sales and saw its product carried by President Barack Obama. Square, meanwhile, is valued at $3.1 billion and is aiming to have 1,000 employees in San Francisco by the end of the year, according to an article in Business Insider.
"These people are starting businesses, they're employing people to work for these businesses and most of them are keeping it here in the United States. That's a huge economic impact," Mr. Woods said.
Regardless of what products eventually come out of the Pittsburgh branch, Mr. Woods said the most important thing is to create an environment that encourages innovation on all levels.
"For a lot of people it's going to be their first business. And successful entrepreneurs tend to launch more businesses," he said.
"You're developing an asset that's not just a company and a product line and employees, you're developing the intellectual capital of how to start a company."