by Eric Ginsburg
A new nonprofit opening on Lewis Street will offer hobbyists and entrepreneurs a way to access equipment and in a burgeoning corner of downtown Greensboro.
Tinkering hobbyists, basement inventors, skilled craftsmen and entrepreneurs in Greensboro are about to kick off a new space where they can hone their crafts and collaborate with each other. Greensboro’s Makerspace, also known as the Hackerspace and the Forge, is rapidly coming together.
Standing in front of a crowd of about 30 people at a monthly meeting at the beginning of the month, President and founder Joey Adams welcomed members and interested residents into the renovated building.
“This is the very soft opening to the finished space,” Adams said. “Now that I’ve seen the lights on, I’m much more willing to set a date for a grand opening.”
Collaborative projects like this have cropped up around the country, helping people pool resources to afford expensive equipment for metalworking, technological experimentation, woodworking and more. And now the opening of Greensboro’s Makerspace is “imminent.”
The Makerspace is funded by $45 monthly memberships, a figure Adams likes to note is less than a gym membership, and members’ interests and donations will determine what machinery is acquired.
Building owner Andy Zimmerman dramatically transformed the space over several months before the soft opening, bringing it up to code and renovating it with a clean, classic look.
Walking through a thick wooden door on Lewis Street, members enter a long workroom that will host most of the equipment with a smaller, separate room for computer and tech work behind it.
Even a week after the unofficial launch, an assortment of furniture, decorations and initial equipment made the space look remarkably more ready for action.
Several workbenches had been moved into the main work area in the front, and a laser cutter rested atop one. Some chairs and two desks had been moved into a computer and tech work area in the back room including one beneath a poster of Grand Teton.
The building also has a small conference room, now decorated with posters of Muhammad Ali, Jack Kerouac and two of Albert Einstein, as well as a full bathroom and a private back patio. An old glass door for “123 Lewis St. Antiques,” salvaged from the front of the building, acts as a window into a closet-like room that will house servers.
Zimmerman is planning a driveway in the back to make the facility more handicapped accessible, but he described the opening as “imminent” pending receipt of a certificate of occupancy and the installment of a security system.
Zimmerman and Adams said one of the Makerspace’s greatest strengths will be its ability to bring people and businesses together. They noted that relationships have already started forming between members with complementary skills.
Business owners have already started reaching out to Greensboro’s Makerspace looking for skilled workers. Zimmerman, who owns Get Outdoors, is among them, having connected with a member with website skills.
“There’s an opportunity to collaborate with people who are experts in their fields,” Zimmerman said. “I think it’s the future of entrepreneurship.”
Adams agreed, adding that having a shared space where people with a plethora of skills interact can cut out roadblocks and middlemen, driving down the price of developing a new product or idea.
“In 15 seconds you’ve accomplished what could’ve taken weeks” just by talking to the person working at the next table, he said.
Adams, who started out in software development, wandered into woodworking as a hobby. He quickly realized that unlike laboring in a virtual realm, something like woodwork takes up a tremendous amount of physical space. He set up a workshop in his garage but quickly ran out of space, preventing him from delving into metalworking despite his interest.
Adams had started making cutting boards, something he didn’t want to turn into a career but couldn’t keep justifying as a worthwhile use of funds otherwise.
Already aware of the concept of hackerspaces and makerspaces, Adams found a Wiki page more than a year ago with contact information for someone local interested in started one. When his email bounced, Adams put up his own information, and when a message came in a month later, plans for Greensboro’s Makerspace started to roll.
It’s grown continually since then, he said, almost entirely by word of mouth. Everyone is a volunteer and they only have “a shoestring budget,” but several professionals have agreed to donate time or equipment to help the project get off the ground.
Members’ interests vary greatly, Adams said, though there is a concentration in fabrication and electronics. There will be industrial sewing machines for people who want to work in textiles and a 3-D printer, he said.
Most of the 30 or so people who attended the soft launch and monthly meeting earlier this month were white men, but Adams said they are intentionally reaching out to different groups with overlapping interests because they “want to mirror the diversity of the city.”
Once the Makerspace opens part of Adams’ role will be to network, drum up support and connect it to more people, which he hopes will draw a bigger cross-section of the city’s residents and turn the organization into “an economic engine for the city and catalyze downtown.”
UPDATE June 25: Greensboro’s Makerspace, also known as the Forge, announced today on Facebook that it is now open: “The Forge Greensboro is officially open for business! We received our temporary certificate of occupancy today, and will begin moving equipment in!”