Earlier today, I was stunned to hear that TechShop was filing for bankruptcy. My heart goes out to everyone involved and impacted, from visionary founder Jim Newton and his team, to every investor, employee, instructor, member, vendor, and landlord, and the many communities that hosted TechShop locations. Makerspaces inspire us to try working with our hands, collaborating with strangers, solving problems for others. These are humble but incredibly important actions that are fading from much of modern life. I’m sure that everyone involved with TechShop felt the importance of this, passionately, and I hope they carry that passion forward into future successes.
Since January of 2010, when NextFab first opened its doors, I have felt a combination of admiration and envy of TechShop’s standing as the first in the “makerspace industry” to reach large scale. According to some theories of business strategy and competition, scale should have given TechShop a greater chance of long term viability. This would seem to make even more ominous Mr. Woods’ conclusion that the core of the TechShop business model was “impossible.”
As I am the founder of NextFab, a small network of for-profit makerspaces in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware, I am paying very close attention.
I’m grateful that Mr. Woods has shared his hard-earned experience at such a difficult time. At the same time, the word “impossible” strikes me as a challenge — not to tread in those same footsteps, but to mourn the losses, know the hazards in detail, and to continue to forge ahead.
There remains a variety of independent makerspaces exploring a variety of business models, for-profit and non-profit alike, and they can be found in nearly every city in America and throughout the world. All of them owe something to TechShop’s groundbreaking efforts. Each makerspace has adapted to its local community and they provide us with many good examples that are both viable and valuable.
A stubborn refusal to accept the impossible, tempered by learning, sharing, and creativity, is at the heart of the maker movement and the makerspace industry. It drove TechShop’s pioneering efforts to give everyone the chance to make, and will continue to drive others, each along their own path, to strive for the same lofty goal.