TechShop: Where Makers Can Pursue Their Dreams and Change the World, with CEO Mark Hatch

TechShop CEO and co-founder Mark Hatch discusses how TechShop can democratize the production of prototypes and products.

The Maker Movement is, you know, it’s an emerging movement that has kind of captures the dreams and aspirations of a pretty large portion of the United States. I mean 56, 57 percent of the people will self-identify as Makers. But we’re specifically targeting the creative class which is a subset within that group. There are about 40 million of them in the United States. This comes out of Dr. Richard Florida’s work over a decade ago. The book called Rise of the Creative Class. They actually control something like 70 percent of all the disposable income in the U.S. – 470 billion dollars. They tend to aggregate in the major cities, not too surprisingly like in New York, LA, San Francisco, Austin.

TechShop is a membership based do-it-yourself fabrication studio. Membership based means for $125 a month, you get access to all the tools that you need to make just about anything. Do-it-yourself means you do it. We don’t do it for you. So even though we have machine tools, woodworking, plastic, electronics, textiles, 3D printers, great big huge water jet that will cut through five inches thick of anything on the planet, laser cutters. It’s you-do-it. So it’s DIY.

So the reason I got involved I was at a software party and event and I overheard Jim Newton, the founder, say over my shoulder – it’s kind of like Kinko’s for geeks. And I actually ran the computer services section of Kinko’s across the United States. So if you think about Kinko’s, the geeky part of Kinko’s is the computer area, at least I would argue that. And so I cornered him and told him like I am Kinko’s for geeks, you know, what are you doing? And so he described TechShop, 20,000 square feet, all of these tools. And so I went and visited it and what happened for me is I talked to three different entrepreneurial groups back-to-back. And each one of them told me that they had saved 98 percent or so – it was like 97, 98, 99 percent of their development costs by working out of the TechShop. And so what they had – they’d gone out and had bids. One was like $300,000 to get one project done. Another one was $200,000. Another one was like $250,000.

And they each said that they had started their company. One was like $20,000 in and another was like $10,000 and the last one was like $2,500 in. And, you know, I pointed – you know, what are you doing. They said well this is an infrared pet warming device. Like this great big huge plastic with wires in it and the idea is that the dog or the cat comes out of surgery, it needs to be warmed, the current technology is wet blankets in the microwave. That’s not really a technology in my mind but that’s what they were using to keep the dogs or the cats warm. Sometimes they would get burned. Sometimes somebody would get distracted and then, you know, the wicking would actually make the dog or the cat get cold rather than trying to warm them up again. And so it was a simple idea was we’ll just use infrared. You know you set one dial based on the size of the animal, another dial based on the thickness of the coat and a timer so it just goes off after 10 or 15 minutes. Simple, really good idea. And he said yeah, it was a great idea but, you know, my original bid was for $250,000.

And then he looks at me and he says, you know, Mark, I’m a roadie for Sting. I don’t have $250,000. My wife’s not going to let me take a loan out on a house for an infrared pet warming device. And so, you know, I’ve been sitting on it for the last three years. Discovered TechShop for 2,500 bucks I’ve got my first production prototype. He’s now sold millions of dollars’ worth of these things. And that’s the magic. If you can take something that used to cost, you know, small house and you can make it so that anybody in the middle class can afford it, 2,500 bucks. I would argue if you could afford a Starbucks addiction you can afford a TechShop membership and you can innovate. That is really revolutionary. And so I stood at the end of that after meeting these three guys and I guess it’s Bruce Sterling that says, you know, the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed. I was standing in the physical instantiation of the future. It was clear as day.

Not only are people doing interesting projects like the world’s fastest electric motorcycle – did 218 miles an hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Won Pike’s Peak this last year and actually destroyed the Ducati superbike by like 20 seconds. The world’s most efficient data cooling center. The world’s cheapest drip irrigation system. I mean all of these things. We’ve had some that have come out that are actually changing the world. And this is definitely my favorite. It’s called the embrace infant warming blanket. And it’s a simple technology. There’s a polymer pouch that goes in the back here and what you do is you heat the pouch up, slip it in here and it keeps the child warm. So where it started was a woman named Jane Chen was in the Stanford D School and as part of the D School you do a couple of things. You either, you know, work for a corporation on a problem that they’ve got or you find a problem that you want to work on. And so she and her friends hit the World Health Organization’s website and was kind of rooting around for a while. And then they discovered this particular problem that if a child is born two weeks too early, they’re hypothalamus isn’t fully developed and they can’t regulate their body temperature.

Now their lungs are fine, right. If it’s a month early then they’ve got other issues but if it’s just two weeks it’s just a matter of managing that temperature. And it turns out hundreds of thousands of babies die every year because they can’t get to an incubator within the one hour that they need to before serious medical problems set in. So the idea here was this polymer would keep the pouch warm and it would extend that hour to – actually by the end of the school year they had it to another hour. So you had had two hours to get the child to an incubator. But then they graduated and they came to TechShop in Menlo Park again. A lot of these stories come out of Menlo because that was our – we’ve been open there the longest. And then magic happened. The locations that we have turn out to be the most kind of creative aggregators of amazing people in any city. And so Noganon Murti was the chemical engineer who was sitting at a table working on something. And a chemical engineer came over and asked him some pointed questions like hey Noganon have you ever scaled a polymer before. Like no, he just graduated. You know, how much do you know about these particular polymers you’re working on. It’s like, you know, very little.

Just what I’ve learned in college. So it turned out this guy had like 30 years of polymer experience and worked with Noganon to upgrade the core technology in this. And they upgraded it from one hour to four hours. So this is like a threefold increase but then because you put it in a geography it’s actually a nine fold improvement in the reach. So their core technology was donated to them by members in the community. And that’s one of the unique things about being able to have a large scale maker space in a city is that it aggregates those folks. So this blanket has already saved 87,000 lives. Jane Chen was named a world economic forum fellow and has had an amazing run. And so that’s what I like to say. It’s not only do these spaces enable you to pursue your dreams but they can also enable you to change the world in very positive ways.


Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton


TechShop CEO and co-founder Mark Hatch discusses how TechShop can democratize the production of prototypes and products.

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