Tech Shop is closing, but the maker revolution continues. Beyond just hardware, like 3D printers and lathes, makers are improving their everyday lives with open source AI. In this article, CMO Seth Redmore examines what went wrong and how things are still looking up.
A grand experiment
A grand experiment, over a decade in the making, ended with little fanfare and seemingly in failure this November when Tech Shop filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. The shop, which offered studio space to people who wanted to work on startups and side-projects, just didn’t have a sustainable business model, according to a notice that former CEO Dan Woods sent out in mid-November.
But while it may not have been profitable, I think it’s more than unfair to suggest Tech Shop was a failure, especially with it’s core mission: giving creators a space and tools to create.
Ten years is a good run for a place like Tech Shop, that was essentially inventing it’s own niche industry. For about $1,000 per year, creators could reserve time in the shop and have access to equipment and tools they wouldn’t have had elsewhere. That fee paid for general instruction and safety courses for the equipment. Then, what the makers in the shop did was up to them.
The bankruptcy and the shop’s closure may be bad news for stakeholders and entrepreneurs trying to follow the Tech Shop model. However, both it’s ten-year run and the shockwaves its bankruptcy sent through the tech community are actually a signal of how Tech Shop succeeded.
Tech Shop is closing, but it still succeeded
Tech Shop began, way back in 2006, as a way for creators to have access to tools, talent, and a place to work. While it may not have been a money-maker for the stakeholders in Tech Shop, it has helped dozens if not hundreds of people take their dreams and have a fair shot at making them a reality. It’s an extension of the open-source revolution that has sparked innovation from people who might not have otherwise had a chance to innovate. In our field, people can use open-source tools like Stanford NLP and NLTK as well as myriad other online options to help create cool machine learning/NLP projects to help your everyday life.
One of the things Tech Shop’s CEO cited as a reason for its inability to stay profitable was that such an endeavor needs public investment from cities, states, and non-profits. These entities are far more likely to invest those resources in something that’s not-for-profit, unlike Tech Shop. So what are creators who relied on their resources to do? Keep the focus local and start up a replacement themselves.
What comes next for Tech Shop?
So, now that Tech Shop is closing, what comes next?
In my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tech Shop was already slated to close at the end of November because it was struggling like the rest of the locations. However, rather than being left in a lurch, the creators that used that space are working to create Protohaven, a nonprofit organization that is meant to offer similar resources to independent creators in the (formerly) Steel City. Leave it to Pittsburgh to turn a crisis into a renaissance!
A local organization, especially one not looking to make a profit, would be a much easier thing to maintain. The original Tech Shop location started as a joint venture between Ford Motor Company and Autodesk, a software shop. With investments from local businesses and public works groups, creators can find the help they need. Tech Shop is closing, but the legacy it leaves behind is a great one for the maker community.
I, for one, am so eager to see what comes next.