You could call it a phoenix of sorts. The MADE Makerspace, which opened on Delmar Boulevard in November, is something new emerging from something that saw a very sudden end.
Doug Auer, who runs the Third Degree Glass Factory across the street, partnered with Silicon Valley tycoon Jim McKelvey on the project. McKelvey is a native of St. Louis and best known for founding Square payments along with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. McKelvey is also a co-founder of Third Degree Glass along with Auer.
“[McKelvey] didn’t have any time and I didn’t have any money,” Auer says with a laugh. “He paid for it and I built it. And the building we’re sitting in is the second example of that sort of teamwork,” after the glass factory project.
So what is the point of a makerspace? McKelvey can talk on the subject for hours.
“There are amazing things that happen in a makerspace. People who want to create have access to tools that they would never otherwise be able to use. So we have a bunch of laser cutters here that are fantastic. We have a water jet that will cut through four inches of steel. We have shop bots and hand tools. We have embroidery machines and Cadcam software.”
But they almost had none of it. And “makers” here, like small business owner Karen DeGuire, point to McKelvey as a sort of savior.
“When Jim McKelvey swooped in and like saved us all, it was like a miracle. It really was. We’re so grateful to him.”
McKelvey’s journey with this project spans two businesses and two time zones.
“I got involved when this was called TechShop in Menlo Park, CA. That’s where I built some of the Square card readers. Then, TechShop expanded nationally and opened up a shop here in St. Louis. But a year ago they declared bankruptcy and closed all the tech shops.”
TechShop shut down during the holiday season, leaving local small businesses scrambling to produce product to fulfill holiday orders. This forced the majority of the businesses working out of TechShop to go out of business.
“I actually went in that morning getting ready to make a special order for somebody,” DeGuire recalls, “and the manager stopped me in my tracks and said, ‘You need to go. We’re closed. We’ve gone bankrupt.’ And my jaw hit the floor. I went into my car and I cried for about an hour.”
It was a similarly bad day for Vincent Schell, now the Director of Operations at MADE, but then working for TechShop.
McKelvey had been scrambling from the moment he heard about the sudden closure.
“So Doug [Auer]and I sort of concocted a plan that evening to save it. Then we announced to the makers of St, Louis that there would be a one year pause while we got a new building, moved everything over, and reopened.”
After worries about the entrepreneurs at TechShop, they cut a deal to keep it open through Christmas. Then they got to work. Cortex Innovation Community owned all the equipment, another partner, and McKelvey and Auer found a building across from their Third Degree Glass Factory on Delmar. But the building they bought was a shell and little more.
“I can remember literally driving through the space where we’re sitting right now with a stake truck with Doug, paint spilling out the side,” McKelvey says with a laugh. “We’re driving up to a building we had just taken possession of that had no systems, no lights, no heat, the roof was leaking.”
Schell was one of the TechShop employees who was laid off then quickly rehired by Auer and McKelvey to build MADE. He is happy to brag about the new spot.
“We have a 16 thousand square foot first floor dedicated to having just about anything you need to make. We have a full woodshop, a full machine shop, metal shop, welding, water jet, 3D printers, laser cutters, textiles, silk screening…the list goes on.”
And McKelvey sees all those tools as fuel for a variety of small businesses.
“These tools are too expensive for any one individual to use. And you don’t need that much time,” he points out. “A waterjet you might need five minutes on the thing to do a project that will save you hundreds of hours.”
They look to the future, not quite certain how MADE will evolve, but confident there is a long-term place for it in St. Louis. There is a partnership already in the works with the Magic House Children’s Museum to get kids interested in making.
“The TechShop here in St. Louis was only a year old when they closed it,” Auer points out. “They definitely had a mix of both small business users and hobbyists. I think we’ll be the same. I think it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Our goal is to make it really inclusive.”
The MADE team hopes making will put people back in touch with the real world.
“There is so much digital resources for creativity out there these days and a maker space really allows us to enhance that in the physical world,” Schell said.
“It’s so much fun to make!” McKelvey exclaimed. “We spend so much time these days creating in front of our screens, and that’s somehow unsatisfying to the hand. You’ve gotta feel something. Put your hand on a rough piece of wood, or feel leather, or cut yourself, or do something that connects with our humanity and that’s what a maker space really helps do.”
Anyone can join MADE. The fee is $50 per month, with nominal additional charges to use some of the large scale machinery. For more details and contact information, go to their website at https://madestl.wordpress.com.