By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor
The Chandler makerspace run by TechShop until it went bankrupt has reopened after Arizona State University stepped in to help serve entrepreneurs, artists and others who had lost a place to create products and other work.
The makerspace at 249 E. Chicago St. in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center closed in November 2017 and TechShop Inc. filed for bankruptcy in February of last year.
Arizona State University “worked through the bankruptcy process to acquire the equipment and reopen the makerspace for the public, as well as for Arizona State University,” said Ji Mi Choi, ASU associate vice-president in charge of the university’s Knowledge Enterprise Development Leading Entrepreneurship + Innovation initiative.
Previously, ASU did not have access to the equipment that TechShop had left in the makerspace, Choi said.
The equipment includes 3D printers, laser cutters, a vinyl cutter, Janome and Juki sewing machines, a woodshop containing SawStop table saw, a panel saw, a large table ShopBot, as well as a full metal shop with manual mills, manual lathes, a CNC mill, saws and a drill press.
A full welding area with metal prep grinders, Iron Worker bender/shear, a metal shrinker/stretcher and other supplies, along with a full supply of hand tools and a pottery area with a kiln, casting machine and a potter’s wheel also make up the extensive supplies in the makerspace.
But people who use the space still can’t get to the equipment.
One of the directors at ASU’s Core Research Facilities Team had a heart attack recently, delaying any required training.
Members cannot use metal drills or other heavy machinery until they go through training to get certification. However, members can still visit the makerspace and use computer equipment right now, Choi said.
“We will have training at the makerspace,” she said. “We will have ASU students using makerspace in conjunction with their courses, as well as offer training for anyone to participate in.”
The team helping to run the makerspace is part of ASU’s Core Research Facilities Team.
Choi’s team, Entrepreneurship + Innovation, will serve as manager overall of the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, which is a whole facility where programs, events and community uses are offered along with the makerspace, she said.
“This is not a university makerspace for students and faculty only,” Choi said. “It’s for the community, as well as students, faculty and others in the ASU community.
“People coming together around making, creating, entrepreneurship is a richer community when you have a diversity of users ranging from students to artists to business owners to other innovators. Ultimately our goal is to have a vibrant community … at the Chandler Innovation Center including those who come together around making.”
ASU renewed its lease last May for the whole ASU Chandler Innovation Center for another five years. The City of Chandler owns the building and has been leasing it to ASU since 2013.
The TechShop closure in 2017 left some East Valley entrepreneurs scrambling as the space had provided small business owners a spot where they could avoid high overhead costs usually tied to opening a business.
It gave them access to high-tech equipment, as well as a workspace.
When it closed, ASU found space for its students at other university-run facilities, and other organizations also welcomed displaced maker community members, according to Micah Miranda, city economic development director.
One place that reached out to help makers was Gangplank, a co-working space in downtown Chandler.
“This is important for this makers’ community for a variety of reasons and ASU really being a good community partner has stepped in to fill a role that was left vacant,” Miranda said, adding:
“The expertise in managing the facility will be extremely professional. ASU has been a fantastic partner for the city. Even outside of (ASU Chandler Innovation Center), they’re very engaged in our economic development efforts, business attraction, retention.”
Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke also expressed enthusiasm for the makerspace reopening.
“We are extremely excited to celebrate the reopening of the maker space at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center,” Hartke said. “This venue serves as a resource to students, makers and our entrepreneurial community and it wouldn’t be possible without our partnership with ASU.
“The co-location of the city’s Innovation Incubator, maker space and other entrepreneurial activities is a receipt for business development and reinforces Chandler’s reputation as the Innovation and Technology Hub of the Southwest.”
Choi returned the compliment to the city.
“The city’s been a fantastic partner,” she said. “They have very early on recognized the value of a place-based innovation center … and the importance of working with a partner like ASU, inviting in teachers, business owners, artists, creators. Overall, they were pretty innovative early on in recognizing the need for a place like that in Chandler.”
More than 180 people so far have signed up for free, 30-day trial memberships to the makerspace, Choi said. The cost of memberships beyond 30-day periods has not yet been determined, she said.
“We are still determining the right membership model including the cost,” Choi said. “If TechShop knew what it was doing, it wouldn’t have been bankrupt. We’ll have a chance to know what people want to use, why they’re using it, when they want to use it, how often (they want to) use it.”
Training and access to the equipment will be managed by ASU’s Core Research Facilities Team.
“There’s a lot of negative connotation to what’s formerly known as TechShop,” Choi said. “The bankruptcy disappointed a lot of people. It took a lot of people by surprise. It hurt a lot of people. We wanted to move forward with a new page with optimism.”
She said ASU asked the community what name it wanted to give the new makerspace, and it is going through suggestions.
The makerspace “helps people express their artistic and creative abilities,” Choi said.
“I think it helps people hone their own innovative ideas and skills,” she said. “It’s like exercising your innovation muscles. I definitely think it could help people professionally. There’s a process that happens from ideation to creation that can be helpful and transferable in other ways.”
Besides the makerspace, ASU Chandler Innovation Center also houses Chandler Innovations, an entrepreneur incubation development program.
The ASU Chandler Innovation Center is about 26,000 square feet and the makerspace takes up about 13,000 square feet of it.
Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke spoke at the open house for the makerspace reopening at 249 E. Chicago Street in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center on Feb. 20. (City of Chandler)