MakeHartford is the first makerspace in Hartford, CT. The community space provides a place for artists, innovators, technologists and entrepreneurs to experiment with hands-on innovation.
Innovation Destination: Hartford toured the cutting-edge makerspace and spoke with MakeHartford President and Founder Steve Yanicke.
IDH: Why did Hartford need a makerspace?
YANICKE: Based on my previous startup work experiences, some colleagues and I realized we needed a place where we could incubate and have weird conversations with other techy-type people so we could develop and prototype for those startup businesses.
MakeHartford is designed to serve the community. We believe that people are inherently creative and that they want to share their creations with others. We do as much as we can to lower the barrier for entry, both for skilled development and for research as well as manufacturing in any field in which the community has an interest. That could range from knitting, cooking and brewing to aerospace, rocketry, robotics, medical devices and onboard circuitry.
I think there’s a general tendency within the maker community to do high-tech things, but that’s mostly because if you want to do more traditional craft, you have access to that equipment. If it comes to having access to a 60-watt CNC laser, you probably haven’t bought that $8,000 to $10,000 piece of equipment. Most people can’t justify owning a piece of equipment like that. But it makes a whole lot of sense to be able to share one.
But we also have fun. There’s a need for any entrepreneurial ecosystem to have a third space—not work, not necessarily home—a place where you can go and socialize.
IDH: That’s very practical.
YANICKE: Right. If you look at the average life of a battery-powered drill, it’s used for maybe 20 minutes in its entire life. So there’s a lot of excess capacity for this equipment. How do we better utilize the capacity and share the resources?
MakeHartford is like a gym for creative and technical people and instead of having free weights and dumbbells we have 3-D printers and CNC machines. Right now we certainly have more higher-tech equipment than what most people I know have in their home, and we still have a lot to add.
IDH: You emphasize community. In what ways does MakeHartford help build a community?
YANICKE: More than a few of our members have decades of experience in various technical fields and enjoy coming to the space to share their knowledge and skills with people who are in their early 20s.
MakeHartford is different than most makerspaces in that we seem to have attracted a very technical community. When we talk to makerspaces in Mountain View, CA, where Google is located, and even in Detroit, MI, they are both very tech- and software-based with something like 80% of their space being a co-working space similar to reSET and a very small space devoted to machining and manufacturing.
In contrast, almost our entire space is geared toward manufacturing and either machining or woodwork or desktop fabrication or 3-D printing with an 8-12 person classroom that doubles as a co-working kind of space.
You don’t often get a lot of feedback on work done in your garage. Working in the company of others allows us to socialize the collective knowledge of our members so you don’t have to make all the mistakes on your own in order to learn something.
The maker movement is sometimes called a “Do It Yourself” revolution and I think that’s actually not correct. I would say it’s more of a “Do It Together” kind of revolution. Everyone I know who has been successful got further faster and is happier about doing that work together than going into a basement, working by themselves for six months or six years, and then coming out and hoping that the world still needs whatever product they were working on.
IDH: How do people find out about MakeHartford?
YANICKE: We run an open house on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 9:00 PM. We’re getting posters out. To date, we’ve been mostly working from word of mouth and social media, Meetup especially, has been a great at getting the word out. Our mailing list recently crossed more than 500 subscribers.
IDH: Do you have to join or be a member?
YANICKE: We work off of a membership model. Membership is $50 a month or $75 a month for 24-hour access, which enables people to come and go at their leisure. We’re pretty active with going to maker faires, such as the State of Makers for Envisionfest and the upcoming Greater Hartford Mini Maker Faire. Recently, we were at the New Britain Museum of Art for a local artist event. Art and technology come together in a lot of ways, so we end up going to a whole bunch of events just sharing what we do and seeing who’s interested, that’s how we get most of our members.
IDH: Have any successful startup companies emerged from projects started at makerspaces?
YANICKE: Yes. Stars from the maker community include WobbleWorks, which made the 3Doodler, a 3-D printing pen that was created by a guy who worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He left work on a Friday and started his Kickstarter looking to raise about $70,000. By Monday morning the startup had raised almost $200,000 and by the time the Kickstarter ended in 30 days, they had raised more than $2.7 million. He no longer works at MIT. Another company founded in a makerspace includes Square, the mobile payment system that so many vendors and small businesses now use to do credit transactions.
IDH: What do you enjoy most about working with makers and innovators?
YANICKE: I get to talk to some really interesting people. The Wednesday night open houses are the most fun I have all week. Never knowing where the next conversation will bring me certainly leaves for so much space in creativity and artistic license.
For example, I recently talked to someone who was doing epigenomics research, which is the study of genes changing through the course of your life due to external stimuli. We got into a conversation where we were looking at inserting different genes into E.coli to produce bio fuels. The week before I was talking with someone who was working on an agricultural project for Mars One and he was doing an aquaponics project that collapses into a 55-gallon drum he wanted to launch off to Mars. The week before was the kick off for our First Robotics team, so we had 16 16-year-olds walking around the space doing robotics programming, riveting, and other fabrication.
To watch these ideas grow up from conception to startup, I sort of feel like a father. I have a paternal interest in seeing the members of MakeHartford do well and doing whatever I can to help them succeed. I get a personal satisfaction in contributing to other peoples’ success and that’s deeply rewarding.