At Fifth and Howard streets in San Francisco sits TechShop, part of a growing franchise made just for makers. TechShop is designed to have the convenience of a corporate gym mixed with the underground hacker mindset. During CNET's visit, an eclectic bunch of members--including policemen, entrepreneurs, and fashionistas--all huddled in the gym-size playground and took prototyping into their own hands.
Meet Jim Newton, one of the co-founders of TechShop. He once advised the popular TV show "MythBusters." He said he built TechShop in 2006 so he'd have a place with the necessary tools to work on his pet projects, one being a digital clock. Sad fact: He has yet to actually build a digital clock. However, seeing others build their projects seems to bring him great satisfaction.
The up-front cost of starting a TechShop is about $1 million to buy the equipment. Each location can turn a profit in about a year if enough people become members and take classes. Newton said the locations of the first TechShops have been strategic: he'd rather start in areas where there's an an entrepreneurial spirit.
Currently, in addition to San Francisco and the new location in San Jose, Calif., TechShops are located in cities including Menlo Park, Calif. and Raleigh, N.C. In five years, Newton hopes to open up hundreds of TechShops around the nation. Next on his list are Brooklyn, N.Y., and Detroit.
In the ideas room, Jake Gasaway (left), director of business development at Stitch Labs, holds a business meeting with Janet Lees, director of program and communications, at SF Made and Brandon Levey, co-founder of Stitch Labs.
Newton says entrepreneurs often just need a place to hash out their ideas. The view isn't too shabby either, as a large glass window overlooks the main lab.
The design of TechShop is simple, giving people lot of space to think. No one gets kicked out until they become successful and need more room.
Newton loves talking about the members who made bamboo iPad cases in the wood shop. After a couple of classes, the iPad case entrepreneur built a thousand cases and had $3 million in revenue. Dodocase has expanded its products to include cases for Kindles and other tablets. Newton says the company moved out for more space so it could begin to outsource some of that manual labor.
Some projects at TechShop involve large objects like car parts and furniture, but we found Andrew Sauter elbow-high in electronics. Sauter was tweaking circuits for a medical device. If a prototype needs some electronic part or robotic component, it is made in this corner lab, one of the quieter areas of the shop.
Before stepping into the machine lab, people can sketch out their designs electronically. Members can design their prototypes using programs like software from Autodesk before getting their hands dirty in the wood shop or machine room.
Being a maker around all these other makers might cause you to worry about someone stealing your idea. Have no fear: There's a booth to help you get started protecting your coveted invention. Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office booth and ring a patent officer directly with an old-school telephone.