TechShop, in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, celebrates its fourth anniversary next month, and even though it has 17,000 square feet stocked with millions of dollars’ worth of advanced machines and specialized tools, it is little-known to the people who can make use of it.
TechShop is a membership chain with 10 locations nationwide, and Chandler’s facility at 249 E. Chicago St. is the only one in Arizona.
Members such as luthier Kevin Butler and metal artist Marjorie Risk, both of Mesa, are among the members who use TechShop equipment to help grow their small businesses. They wax enthusiastic about its usefulness.
“I’d already started my business building high-end custom bass guitars before joining but was only able to work at it on weekends and after hours at the wood shop where I was employed,” said Butler.
Butler said had it not been for TechShop, growing his business, RockHewer Custom Guitars, wouldn’t have been possible.
“It so happened that shortly after I joined TechShop, that wood shop went out of business. I either had to fully embrace the entrepreneurial spirit or find another day job. I chose the former,” he said.
Annual membership starts at $95 a month for students and active military, and $150 monthly for others, with a discount for full-year membership payment. There’s also an add-on family membership for $50 more monthly.
TechShop owners describe their business as a “community-based workshop and prototyping studio on a mission to democratize access to the tools of innovation.”
As lofty as that may sound, it holds true for many who make use of its machinery and tools regularly.
“We’ve literally had thousands of students in the last four years,” said Jon Barbara, national director of operations and a Mesa resident. “We’ve invigorated and brought in a lot of entrepreneurs and helped start small businesses. We also engage with the general public, some who don’t even know they’re entrepreneurs.”
Located in the city’s former public works yard, TechShop is an alliance between Chandler and ASU’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
The cavernous facility, with indoor and outdoor work areas, contains cutting-edge tools, equipment and specialized computers with a wide assortment of design software.
“Ultimately, our goal is to keep education alive and give entrepreneurs a place to grow,” Barbara said. “In a lot of cases, members are given free rein to do what they like.”
Marjie Risk, a working artist before joining TechShop several years ago, said she faced the dilemma many artists face – making a living out of an art that requires work space, specialized tools and other costly but necessary business expenses.
“Without TechShop, I most likely wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to be successful as an artist, and it probably would have taken much longer,” said Risk.
“These resources have kept me going and provided the basis for growing my business over the last couple years,” said Risk, who uses TechShop’s welders.
“It often takes some time to develop a following and being able to produce enough inventory for art festivals and galleries,” she added. “TechShop provides the workplace and equipment, so I’m able to focus my limited resources on materials and promotion.”
For those who aren’t sure where their entrepreneurial or even hobby interests lie, there are low-cost and free classes, including the Safety and Basic Use (SBU) seminar required before using some machines.
Up to 45 active instructors are also available to help facilitate an introduction to the many choices available.
Walk into the facility on a tour, as the public is invited to do anytime, and what’s immediately apparent is the vast selection of machines and tools available.
There are 3-D printers, laser cutters, industrial sewing machines, injection molding machines, plastics working equipment and woodworking equipment.
The list goes on. Members can reserve the machines ahead of time online.
Classes are offered covering all interests. Learn blacksmithing basics or leather working, Coptic bookbinding or CorelDRAW, sandblasting and powder coating or 3-D printing and finishing techniques.
And TechShop serves youth ages 8 through 17 through after-school, Saturday Studios and seasonal camp programs.
Youth programs are part of TechShop’s STEAM initiative: science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics with art expanding on the usual STEM education offerings.
“We started running summer camps and fall camps and after-school programs about five years ago. I feel we’re touching what the future looks like getting kids exposed that might not otherwise have this exposure,” Barbara said.
“We’re seeing a lot of traction with that here in Chandler, and they like the experiences enough they bring the family back with them,” he added. “To me it’s a renaissance.”
On Saturday, Nov. 18, TechShop invites the public to its anniversary party open house.
Information: TechShop.ws or 480-327-0820. TechShop hours are Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight. Online virtual tours are also available.