Makerspace Profile: Radicand Lab

Each week, as we get to know our community and the broader IoT movement, we’re fortunate to connect with some remarkable individuals and organizations. In our “Makerspace Profile” series, we interview makerspace founders to learn more about the maker movement around the world.

In this profile, you’ll meet Radicand Lab based in Redwood City, CA.

How did Radicand Lab start?

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We started laying the groundwork for Radicand at the end of 2012 having seen a number of my peers pursuing hardware start-ups and understanding the unique challenges there. Building a software start-up is a fairly well understood process in Silicon Valley and there is a whole ecosystem in place to support them and help them grow. Hardware is different – you need space, machines, you need to make a mess and some noise – sometimes things get lit on fire – and we wanted to build a community of like-minded individuals around this common theme. We placed a strong emphasis on the autonomy of entrepreneurs, the value of peer-to-peer advising, and how we could “grease the wheels” of the whole entrepreneurial process through risk- and cost-sharing and open access to emerging rapid prototyping technologies. It took some time to craft our partnership-based membership model (unique in the world as far as I know) and to figure out how we could run an “open collaborative” environment and still handle sensitive intellectual property. Unlike most makerspaces that cater mostly to hobbyists and one-off DIY projects, we focus instead on commercialization and mass manufacture as pathways to translate good ideas into large-scale positive impact in society.

What was the initial response to Radicand Lab like?

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This is a difficult question because I feel like we’ve gotten just about every reaction we could have imagined – and some we could never have predicted. First and foremost, we are focused on providing the ideal collaborative platform for our members and we get very encouraging feedback from them. Building a strong sense of camaraderie within the community did not happen overnight, but to those who have experienced it it has deep meaning and enduring value. Members and visitors alike often express that they find the space to be uniquely creative and inspiring. But, like with anything that is truly new and different we did encounter our fair share of headwind. Silicon Valley is a “big pond” and we are just a couple guys bootstrapping a business (small fish). In some sense there is already an accepted “road map” for start-up companies, and any deviation from this map can be considered a red flag. Our partnership model is part of what makes us most attractive to early-phase hardware start-ups, but it is also relatively uncharted territory – to someone unfamiliar with our community this may signal an unnecessary risk. (Of course, we feel the exact opposite.)

What kind of equipment and resources do you provide participants?

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We provide a full suite of services including advising & mentoring, engineering design consulting, recruiting, unrestricted access to tools, shop machines and rapid prototyping equipment (e.g. CNC mill, CNC laser cutter, 3D printers, lathe), CAD modeling software, networking with strategic partners and investors and community-building events. We also offer shared co-working and designated “flex use” space for our members to set up their projects/start-ups over extended periods of time – many use our shared facility as their HQ of operations; some have completed full low-volume manufacturing runs here.

What does “hacking” mean to you and your community?

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That you do not need to accept things as they are handed to you – everything can be taken apart and rearranged – transmogrified to suit your particular needs and desires. The world we live in was built by other people for themselves to live in – including all its myriad problems and shortcomings. It ain’t sacrosanct. We need to build our own world if we want it to fit right. And what better way to start than with the bits and pieces all around you (standing on the shoulders of giants)?

What projects are people working on?

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We are fortunate to get to work on a wide variety of projects at Radicand. My personal favorites are in the domain of alternative energy solutions. One of the newest start-up products we are incubating is the MudWatt by Keego Technologies – an educational science kit powered by living microbes in mud. It’s like a battery made of dirt! We also have a solar energy project exploring alternative to photovoltaic cells for open-source electricity generation. Earlier this year we were able to successfully demonstrate a steady-state machine capable of converting sunlight directly into mechanical work with no moving parts. These sorts of open-ended, high-risk, high-impact projects are at once deeply challenging and tremendously inspiring, and I think perhaps the best examples of what we can make happen with our unique platform.

What are your future plans?

We have a number of exciting plans for the future of The Radicand Lab. First, we would like to expand to additional locations outside of Silicon Valley to create a national (and eventually international) network of entrepreneurs, in partnership with engineering universities and local industries. Second, we would like to establish a seed fund to be able to directly invest in the companies that we work with. Lastly, we are excited to begin developing and launching our own products under the Radicand brand. With this extended reach, and the ability to strategically direct our efforts we hope to create an “engineering innovation engine” that is recognized for bringing meaningful new solutions to the table and products to market.

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