Funding Received: 2011
Detroit, MI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
March 29, 2012

PHOTO: San Francisco's TechShop.

The Detroit FAB Lab is envisioned to be a multi-use space that will incubate artists, startup businesses and small companies while providing a cooperative working and social environment that will foster innovation. Core to the facility would be the FAB Lab itself. The space is envisioned as a production center catering to artists and fabricators. It will offer access to high-tech equipment and will provide workshop space for artists and other fabricators, allowing shared access to normally expensive equipment. The FAB Lab will maintain strong connections to TechTown, and will serve as a feeder to TechTown’s business acceleration programs.

As part of the grant, the team - comprised of Alex Feldman from U3 Ventures, Jeff Sturges from OmniCorpDetroit, and Meredith Kerekes from TechTown - is visiting best-practice models in the United States, developing a vision and business plan for the concept, and identifying opportunities for partnerships in Detroit. In late January 2012, the team visited California to explore best-practice models in San Diego (San Diego Fab Lab), Oakland (the Crucible), the Stanford Fab Lab and Tech Shop’s facilities in San Francisco and Menlo Park.

The team provided this report to ArtPlace about their visits:

All of the models provided different lessons. San Diego’s model was a Fab Lab without a space. They focused on providing education programs to high school students in both low-income and upper-income areas of San Diego.

The Crucible provides a workshop for those interested in metal working, fire arts, glass and other types of fabrication. They are located in a massive warehouse space in West Oakland. The Crucible provides community resources such as bike repair and hosts arts events; they have created a vibrant, dynamic space inside their warehouse, which has not activated the street.

We visited two Tech Shops – their original location in Menlo Park, California (just outside Palo Alto) and their new downtown San Francisco location. Both shops provide space for wood, metal and digital fabrication; however, the downtown San Francisco location appeared to be a much more dynamic space. The Menlo Park location was in the middle of an industrial park and was only accessible by car. The downtown San Francisco location was in an old warehouse in the growing SOMA district – close to public transportation and the vibrant arts scene in the city. The downtown location was filled at 3 p.m. on a weekday afternoon with members – while the Tech Shop in Menlo Park was much less active.

We came away with one significant lesson from our trip - location matters in creating a dynamic environment. While fab labs can work in many locations, harnessing the vibrant energy of a downtown location – and the growing young creative population found there – can help create a more dynamic space inside and outside the fab lab.

On our next trip in April, we will visit New York City, Philadelphia and Providence, RI.