Funding Received: 2011
Detroit, MI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 12, 2011

Since we last wrote, we had a chance to visit two different Fab Labs in two different cities.

In early November, we visited NextFab Studio in Philadelphia, PA, and a few weeks later, we stopped by the new TechShop in Dearborn, MI. Both places are dedicated to enabling innovation by providing access to a variety of fabrication equipment. While both shops provide a membership-driven model, mentorship and access to high-tech equipment, the locations set them apart.

NextFab Studio is located in the University City section of Philadelphia, adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, and linked to the University City Science Center – a research and incubation center that fosters technology commercialization and tech-based economic development.

NextFab strives to embody an entrepreneurial spirit through its street presence. The 4,400-square-foot studio is located on the ground floor in a highly visible storefront that links the city to the studio. From inside the studio, large windows connect the space to the street and the community. In addition, NextFab’s proximity to several universities has helped grow its student membership base.

While the University City Science Center isn’t generally considered the most vibrant part of the neighborhood, this active ground floor use is helping to create a buzz along this portion of Market Street.

In contrast, TechShop is located in an office and research park in suburban Detroit. The facility was still under construction when we visited, but we’re confident it will be an impressive facility when completed.

Its location, however, was curious to us. TechShop is in a former Ford Motor Company building a few miles from the automaker’s Dearborn headquarters. Given TechShop’s direct connection to Ford, this location makes sense. However, the growing migration of the millennial generation and creative class to urban centers (including Detroit) makes it hard to imagine these groups being drawn to the suburbs to innovate and create.

One of our goals with Fab Lab Detroit is to envision a place that promotes creativity and creates vibrancy. We are confident that both NextFab and TechShop are doing this inside their walls. As we continue to design Fab Lab Detroit, we hope to create a place where innovation within also promotes vibrancy outside of its walls.

(Note: we will revisit NextFab and TechShop in a later entry to discuss the models in greater detail).