You don't need to look far to see that a growing community of makers—people who like to work on art- and science-based DIY projects—is blossoming in the U.S. Not all of these makers own the pricey tools necessary to work on their projects, of course. That's where TechShop, a San Francisco-based chain of DIY workshop spaces that offers tools for artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and everyone in between, comes in.
The chain, which launched in 2006, now has three locations in California and one in North Carolina, and there are plans to open a fifth location in Detroit later this year. Led since 2007 by CEO Mark Hatch, TechShop has raised over $11 million in funding and has plans to open 20 new locations over the next three years. The space has already played host to some impressive projects, including Square's iPhone credit card reader, which was prototyped at TechShop, a lunar lander X Prize challenge entry, and a phase-changing infant warming sleeping bag.
If Hatch has his way, there will eventually be a TechShop in every city on the planet. With a monthly membership that costs as little as $100, there's no telling how many world-changing projects could be created in the space. Hatch recently talked with Fast Company about how and why he's creating the go-to place for others to create their big ideas, and what inspires him to keep building it out.
Big Idea: To grow TechShop into a global community space for makers of all stripes. "If you give the creative class access to the power of the industrial revolution for the first time in 250 years, great things should come out of it," says Hatch, who envisions a TechShop in every major city in the world. TechShop, which offers its members access to everything from spot welders to laser cutters, has plans to open 20 new spaces over the next three years (there are currently three locations in California and one in North Carolina). "The question is, will this work in every Lowe's parking lot?" Hatch wonders.
Credentials: Before joining TechShop, Hatch put in time as an executive at GL Services, Avery Dennison, HealthNet, and Kinko's ("We were giving people access to the most powerful design computers and print machines on the planet for $13 to $18 an hour," he says). Hatch is also something of a maker himself. "After the first dot-com boom, I bought an auto body shop because I like to make things. The siren song of changing the world called me back."
Weekend hobby: For the past five years, Hatch has co-led his son's Amateur Athletic Union basketball team. "I'm married and have kids. I spend as much time with my family as I possibly can."
If I weren't doing this, I'd be... "Building clinics that show up out of the back of a C130 [airplane] at disaster areas. I was a Green Beret medic, so the ability to rapidly deploy appropriate technology in disasters is kind of a personal passion of mine."
The power of Twitter: I use my Twitter feed as my news-gathering device now. I tweet at least a few times a day, and use that as a filter of figuring out what's important."
Bookshelf: Hatch is currently finishing Infinite Possibilities by Joe Pine II and re-reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. On the fiction side of things, the TechShop CEO is enjoying the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley.
Favorite TechShop class: "The welding class is really cool. You arrive, put the glasses on, put this big huge leather jacket and leather gloves on, and pretty soon, you've got a flame as bright as the center of the sun right in front of you. You're dealing with fire and gas and steel."
DIY aspiration: "My next project is a carbon-fiber Eames chair. I think Charles would do it out of carbon fiber next."
[Image: Flickr user sassymonkeymedia]