Tyler Larson makes cake toppers for Cake Wordswith a 75-watt laser cutter on loan from Epilog Laser. He was using Tech Shop before it closed and came to Gangplank afterward.

Over four months have passed since TechShop Chandler abruptly closed amid reports of a pending bankruptcy by its parent company, stranding East Valley hobbyists and small-business owners who relied on the shop to manufacture their wares.

A lot has happened since the closure, including an attempted revival of the brand by Kansas businessman Dan Rasure that ultimately fell apart before TechShop Inc. finally filed bankruptcy on Feb. 26. Rasure eventually opened a new makerspace called TheShop.Build at the site of the old TechShop location in San Francisco.

In the meantime, East Valley makers have banded together to form their own fledgling workshop with the help of Gangplank Chandler, the city-supported co-working space located less than a mile from the old TechShop site in downtown Chandler.

In January, the Chandler City Council approved a resolution to continue funding Gangplank. The resolution provided Gangplank with $170,000 in funding for the year and gives the city the option to execute two additional one-year extensions.

“Gangplank provides an opportunity for Chandler residents to explore entrepreneurship in a unique co-working community,” said Kim Moyers, Chandler downtown redevelopment manager.

Under the contract, Gangplank must host weekly educational opportunities, host a conference and help the city promote Chandler as a hub for technology companies.

Gangplank welcomed the former TechShop members with open arms following the closure, reserving room and workspace in the 12,000-square-foot facility specifically for a makerspace.

While the new shop, called Gangplank Labs, does not come close to replacing the tools or resources that were offered at TechShop, it has been a welcome lifeline for makers.  

It also has the added benefit of being completely free. Rates at the old TechShop location varied and could cost as much as $150 per month.

“Right now there is no cost,” said Mike Kovarik, the CEO of Attribytes who volunteers at Gangplank under the title chief operating pirate. “It is all based on social capital as you come in to utilize the space, give back as a mentor or do something to improve the space.”

The new agreement with Chandler does state that Gangplank LLC, which houses 31 member companies, will work to develop a “tiered monetary model” in which members will contribute financially to Gangplank in order to make the space more self-sufficient and offset the city’s investments in the future.

Kovarik said he made the decision to take over Gangplank in order to “pay it forward” because the space helped him launch his technology company Attribytes.

Much like Gangplank, Gangplank Labs relies on the contributions from members and currently features a collection of typical shop tools like grinders, circular saws, wrenches and screwdrivers.

The shop also has a 75-watt laser on loan from Epilog Laser in Golden, Colorado. Epilog initially loaned the laser to Gangplank for free for three months and recently extended that term for another three to six months, Dave Kern said.

Kern is a former TechShop member who spearheaded the effort to open Gangplank Labs.

The laser is the heart of the makerspace. Members employ it for engraving, etching, metal cutting and similar uses.

“That (laser) has brought the most attention and support,” Kovarik said. “People are using it almost 24/7. That is driving the most traffic into the back of Gangplank.”

Anyone can use the laser after signing a liability waiver, reviewing training materials and passing a test administered by certified members, including some former TechShop employees and contractors. Gangplank Labs has already certified nearly 60 people to use the laser, Kern said.

Members like Hunt Jessup, an adjunct faculty at Mesa Community College who teaches welding courses, regularly volunteer their time to show new community members how to use the laser.

Former TechShop member and investor Kiet Kuru recently used the machine to make personalized medals for a local youth hockey team.

Kuru, an East Valley resident who is executive director of business development for Channel Master by day, sells custom-engraved and -cut items like coasters and key chains through her side business UniqKool. When TechShop shut down, she had to drive over 20 miles each way to Arizona Science Center to fulfill her orders at the CREATE Makerspace.

Kern is in the process of setting up the American Makerspace Association nonprofit group to explore ways that he and other members can raise funds to purchase additional equipment.

Gangplank itself will also be receiving a facelift thanks to funds provided by anchor members of the co-working space. The remodel will begin in late March or early April and include a new break room, phone booths and webinar rooms, Kovarik said.

“We are focusing on creating a more inviting space while still trying to keep more of that industrial modern theme,” he said.

While the East Valley makers work to build a space for themselves, TheShop.Build’s Rasure has not abandoned his plans to open up a facility in Chandler.

“Right now we are focused on establishing a sustainable model in San Francisco while the legal side of the former TechShop assets is sorted out,” Rasure said.

He added, “We have consistently received significant and positive support from the former TechShop Chandler members.”

Rasure initially attended a meeting between TechShop members and Arizona State University at the ASU Innovation Center that housed TechShop Chandler – and still houses the now-defunct company’s equipment. At that meeting Rasure expressed interest in acquiring TechShop and reopening some properties, including the Chandler location.

Those plans initially appeared to progress, albeit slowly, as Rasure negotiated with TechShop Inc. on a range of topics, including the company’s outstanding debt and back pay owed to former TechShop employees and contractors.

However, those negotiations appeared to stall at some point in February, according to posts on the TechShop 2.0 Facebook page (now renamed TheShop.Build). TechShop Inc. ultimately ended up filing an ongoing trademark lawsuit against Rasure for initially naming his new entity “TechShop 2.0.”

TechShop’s decision to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February ensured that all questions related to the defunct company’s assets will be tied up in court for the foreseeable future.

The bankruptcy filing exposed some rather alarming numbers, including that the company had over $38 million in liabilities versus just over $6 million in property. The entity had over 10,000 creditors, many of whom were TechShop members who invested in the company.

– Reach Wayne Schutsky at 480-898-6533 or wschutsky@timespublications.com.

(1) comment

kenc195

So I own a small family business in Chandler and collect their sales taxes and they are funding my competition. I really really feel this is wrong. Private funding I am 100% behind but for the city to fund this is wrong. My business could sure use some city funding!

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