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 Urban Workshop based in Orange County, CA.
How did Urban Workshop start?
Urban Workshop was born out of my engineering and manufacturing company called Automotive Technology Group Inc. (ATG) which opened in 2001. Prior to the economic downturn, we had a nice little business doing advanced R&D services for the large auto makers and smaller startups such as Fisker Automotive. We also did a small amount of professional motorsports.
When the economy slowed, most of the engineering services and manufacturing dried up, but the motorsport business swelled. The rich guys who were racing cars weren’t effected by the downturn of the economy, so we did well. Around about Jan 2012 I started doing STEM presentations to kids at local high schools and colleges to tell them about the race cars hoping to peak their interest in the sciences. At the time I had heard about makerspaces and started asking some of the teachers their opinion on them.
Sort of jokingly they started to introduce me as the guy who is opening The Shop. Well I didn’t correct them and before I knew it people were showing up at ATG asking if this is The Shop and if it was open yet. In January 2013 I was very frustrated with the engineering services business due to customers not paying or going out of business leaving me holding the bag while simultaneously, 3 to 5 people per week were stopping in looking for The Shop. That was when I decided to go for it. We wound down the projects we were working on and in May 2013 signed a lease for a 5,500 square foot R&D space. Using all volunteer help, we set up the new facility and opened as Urban Workshop on July 2015.
A maker space is born, just like that!
What was the initial response to Urban Workshop like?
Overwhelmingly positive. To the point where the facility was entirely built, painted, and set up by volunteers. People who walked in the front door and asked, is this the workshop? Only this time I said yes, but we aren’t open yet. Almost always they replied, can I help? And again I said yes, and put them to work. Today, 6 months and 3 weeks after opening we have 130+ members, offer over 50 classes per month with about 12 volunteer instructors, 3 full time employees, and about 10 volunteer staffers. The response continues to be great and the level of excitement and comradery continues to grow. Almost weekly a member comes to my office to thank me for opening the shop and enabling them to be able to make their dream project or start their new business. I knew this would be fun and satisfying but I never imagined the extent that it would be so well received.
What kind of equipment and resources do you provide participants?
When asked this question it tough to describe other than to say, everything. Urban Workshop is a full scale DIY workshop and makerspace meaning it is very well rounded and includes all aspects of engineering, prototyping and manufacturing equipment. At this point we have nearly $400,000 worth of equipment including; PC’s and software, large format plotters and printers, hand tools, 3D printers, vinyl cutter, electronics lab, co-working office space, meeting rooms, laser etchers, assembly work area with assorted hand and power tools, metal fabrication, machining, CNC machines, MIG and TIG welding, vacuum forming, autoclave, silicone molding pressure pot, composites shop, auto shop and an extensive wood shop with a large CNC router.
It should be pointed out that because of my engineering background, and because Urban Workshop used to be a professional services company, all of the equipment we provide is current state of the art industry relevant equipment as opposed to the typical hobby level equipment you find in all other makerspaces.
In addition we teach classes on all the equipment and continue to add classes as fast as we can generate the course materials.
What does “hacking” mean to you and your community?
In one word, opportunity. Opportunity for our members to learn new skills, open a new business, fix something, help others, learn a new skill, make a new friend, complete a personal project or who knows what. It has been very cool to watch people come in the shop with one idea and end up making 5 more things they never thought of before on equipment they have never used before with the help of someone they met at Urban Workshop.
One other observation here, call it hacking, making, tinkering, or whatever. The desire people have to use their hands is universal and fundamental. It is extremely satisfying to figure something out, address a problem or need one has or create something from scratch. I believe it has a therapeutic value and allows one to focus on something for a time without distraction. Something that is unusual in these days of smart phones and social networking.
What projects are people working on?
The projects at Urban Workshop vary just as much as the members. We have young professionals who are starting their own businesses all the way to burning man crowd. It is impossible to nail it down and give a simple example. I have seen everything from ruggedized super tablets designed and manufactured in the shop to an Arduino controlled dog feeder and a talking WiFi enabled Christmas tree. Urban Workshop’s membership is approx. 30% startups developing new products, 60% hobbyist and 10% college students. The hobbyists are the most diverse and work on home projects, vehicle restorations, boats, motorcycles, gifts, tons of wood working and cabinetry, arts and crafts, holiday decorations, cosplay, prop making, toys, you name it.
What are your future plans?
In the short term Urban Workshop is moving to a larger facility this April – May. We have found the new location and will be taking it over with a premium auto shop already setup including 5 car lifts. In addition, the new facility will allow us to have significant project storage space, a large event area, and a co-working office space. As we continue to grow we will add additional equipment and classes to ensure our members have everything they need and the knowledge to use it.
Long term the goal is to open 10 locations in North America in 7 years.