Wednesday January 21, 2015 0 comments
By Jeff Wilkins
LONGMONT--TinkerMill in Longmont has grown into the largest makerspace in Colorado in less than a year and a half and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Makerspaces are community-operated workspaces where people with various backgrounds in technology and art gather to share ideas, create new things and socialize.
TinkerMill is the brainchild of Founder and President Scott Converse. After traveling back and forth to a hackerspace in Denver, Converse decided to create a new breed of makerspace in his hometown of Longmont in 2013.
"I wanted something more egalitarian and open to everybody," says Converse. "A lot of the early [makerspaces] wanted it closed and tight. They were run like boys' clubs. You had to have an IQ of 160 or you weren't welcome."
Converse created a Meetup group in May of 2013 to see if any other makers in Longmont would be interested in gathering to collaborate and start a creatorspace.
"I thought to myself, if four people show up then we'll have another meeting," Converse said. "Six people showed up so we had another meeting and it just kept growing. At first, it was six people, then 10 people, then 15, 25, 30. It got up to about 40 people within six weeks."
TinkerMill grew so quickly it was forced to move from its original location in a local career development center after just a few months. The group took advantage of cheap rent in the soon-to-be demolished Twin Peaks Mall and opened up shop next to the movie theater.
That's when Longmont's makerspace movement really gained momentum.
"We were sitting next to the theater and people were walking by and saying 'What the hell is that?'" Converse recalls. "'Why do they have laser cutters in there? What's going on over there? What's that thing? That's a 3D printer? I've heard of those.' It just really took off like a rocket."
As interest exploded, TinkerMill once again outgrew their space and was prompted to expand in May 2014. Its current 8,500-square-foot location at 1940 Delaware Place in an industrial section of Longmont makes it the largest creatorspace/makerspace/hackerspace in Colorado.
TinkerMill currently has 150 paying members and over 600 people regularly attending classes. The space offers a variety of courses in a wide range of subjects, including computer programming, jewelry making, Arduino workshops, pottery, laser cutting, woodshop, beer brewing, drone construction, metal shop, 3D printing -- and the list goes on.
The state's largest makerspace recently started a STEM education program for local area kids as well. Called Tinkerscouts, the curriculum is geared toward ages 8-17 and is aimed at teaching kids about technology and understanding the world around them.
"It's a way for kids to get their hands dirty and a way for kids to learn the way they learn best--by doing," explains TinkerMill's Executive Director Ron Thomas. "They're actually doing something visible that they can see and that their community can see."
TinkerMill held nearly 1,000 classes or events for makers of all ages in 2014 and is expecting even bigger things this year.
The group recently received a $60,000 grant from the city of Longmont to create a new prototyping lab to encourage product and economic development in the area. The new lab will include a pick-and-place machine for custom PCB boards, large-scale 3D printers and a media center for creating crowdfunding videos.
"It's a hub for Longmont," says Longmont City Councilman and TinkerMill member Jeff Moore. "It's just a great group of people and you have every skillset from machining all the way down to pottery. You get to meet a lot of people. You share ideas. Those ideas turn into something else, which can lead into economic opportunities."
Converse and Thomas said they also plan to use TinkerMill's successful model to help create other creatorspaces.
"I think any town with 10,000 or more people can have a makerspace like this," says Converse, who hopes to use TinkerMill as an umbrella 501(c)(3) for similar spaces around the country. "We're going to look at, not franchising, but the non-profit equivalent of that. How do we make TinkerMill Fort Collins? TinkerMill Denver? TinkerMill Boston?"
"We've done a lot of the legwork in terms of trying different things here," Thomas says. "It's a matter of taking this infrastructure and process and handing it to those towns with groups of people who want something like this.
"Learn from our success and failures and run with it. Put your own spin on it."