Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show. My guest today: Maclean Smyth, Founder and Director of Houston Makerspace; Maclean, welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show.
Maclean: It’s good to see you again.
Russ: You bet. So, it was a little bit more than a year ago, but let’s say we have people that have not been here yet, or haven’t watched your prior interview. Tell us about Houston Makerspace.
Maclean: Well, we are a large workshop, essentially, that provides tools and machines to makers in our community to enable them to obtain resources and education to launch small businesses.
Russ: Ok, and it sort of fits in that whole makers thing that’s going around the world these days, right?
Russ: Ok. What motivated you to do this back in the beginning?
Maclean: I moved here from San Francisco about 4 years ago, and in San Francisco there’s practically a Makerspace on every corner. It’s kind of like the CrossFit craze; they’re everywhere, and when I moved to Houston, after about 6 months it was blatantly apparent to me that Houston could benefit from additional resources of this type, so I did it.
Russ: Ok, cool. So, if we have somebody watching or didn’t know about it, they say, well cool, I want to come there. I want to be part of it. Is there a cover charge? How do you charge people to use your tools?
Maclean: Absolutely. It’s really similar to a gym. We charge fees either monthly or daily. So, if you want to become a monthly member, and those are for people that are probably going to use our shop 4 or more times a month, you pay your $50 basic membership and then you add shop access for $25 a month. So, most people are paying about $75 or $100 a month to access the facility and run their businesses. Alternately, if you think you’re only going to use the shop for a couple of days each month, we have a $20 daily fee that you can pay instead.
Russ: Ok, so also, reflecting back on a year ago, we weren’t on this exact spot, we were kind of in the neighborhood, but it was a different facility. Tell us about that.
Maclean: So, we originally existed about 3 blocks away from here in a facility about double the size. That facility, honestly, was falling apart, let’s be honest. So, we found this facility, still in the same neighborhood. It’s in much better shape and already had a much better layout to allow us to do what was working well for us. We kind of had had that year to find out was going to work better and what wasn’t, and this works a lot better.
Russ: All right, good. Well, I think it’s impressive. It seems more organized and you’re less likely to get lost in here, too. The other place was huge.
Maclean: It was too big. And you and I joked about the fact that someone could be in the front office and someone could be in the ceramics studio and you’d never see them (
Russ: Right), which is not the sense of community that we wanted. So, in this facility, we’re much closer in proximity, which means we’re much more connected.
Russ: Really good. Ok, so, you know, in general we’ve got the picture now, but what will people come here and learn how to do or what will they come here just to actually experience their craft?
Maclean: So, we have split our offerings up into 5 different shop spaces, and we’ve created those shops and we’ve tried out some shops and gotten rid of them, and the 5 shops that we have now are what seems to be what people want the most. So, we have a woodshop, a welding shop, a print shop, which is mostly screen printing, a ceramic shop, and also a jewelry shop.
Russ: Cool. Let’s go look at the jewelry shop.
Maclean: Let’s do it.
Russ: All right. So here we are at the jewelry shop. Ok, so, kind of describe how this works. I mean, do people just come in here and work? Is there a leader, or how does the whole operation function?
Maclean: Great question. So, each one of our 5 shops has a shop lead that is an expert in their field and required to run a business out of that shop. So in the jewelry shop, for example, our shop lead is Claire Webb that runs a jewelry company called By Claire Webb, and her assistant is Kaila Lewis that runs a company called Lee Lewis Designs. So, each one of our shops has that shop lead, and they’re responsible for making sure the tools and machines are maintained, making sure the members are following the rules, making sure the members have everything they need, and so on and so forth. It works really well.
Russ: Ok, so when you say they have to have a business, I mean, can they also have to have another location where they make jewelry? Or, you know, it’s here and maybe retail store. Exactly what is the requirement?
Maclean: Well, we don’t place any requirements on that, per se, because we do like to offer people as much flexibility as possible. We understand that different businesses have different requirements. Typically, our shop leads don’t need an additional facility for fabrication. Typically they do all of their manufacturing through this shop, but they usually sell their products through multiple different outlets. So, they might be in a couple of different local boutiques, and have an Etsy store, and sell at our monthly markets; things like that.
Russ: Ok, so what they get to do is use the workbenches and tools. I mean, you provide all the tools?
Maclean: We sure do. The only thing we don’t provide are some consumables. So, in the jewelry shop, for example, you would need to provide your own metal, and your own stones if you do stonework, but all the machines that you need are here, most of the little hand tools that you need are here, and all of the instruction that you need is available to you in house.
Russ: Ok. Suppose we have like a rookie that really wants to make jewelry but never has and just shows up here. I mean, how do they learn?
Maclean: Yeah, we have classes. So, each one of our shops has at least one, we call it a basics class. It’s typically a 3 session series, so usually about 9 hours of instruction that will teach you everything you need to know about the tools and machines in a particular shop. It’s not skill building, so we can’t guarantee you’ll be any good, but you’ll at least know how to do it so you can engage in your own independent study.
Russ: Ok and those classes cost, I would assume.
Maclean: Absolutely. All of our instructors are very, very well educated in their craft, and bring a lot of combined years of experience. Typically, a 3 session basics class is going to run you somewhere between $150 and $300, depending on the shop. We do have lower priced classes that usually run anywhere from $40-$80, I’d say. Those aren’t necessarily going to teach you everything you need to know, but they’re great, I call them toe-dipping classes, you know, dipping your toe in the water and testing it out, seeing if it’s your thing.
Russ: Ok, is the instructor the same person that’s like, the director or manager of the area?
Russ: But not always?
Maclean: Not always. We encourage our shop leads to teach, but it’s not a requirement, because, again, since they are running businesses, often times their schedule can get a little crazy, but many of them teach because they enjoy it and because they make money off of it.
Russ: Ok, that makes sense.
Russ: Ok, where do we go next?
Maclean: Well, let’s go take a look at the print shop.
Russ: Good deal. Let’s go. Ok, so this is the print shop.
Maclean: It is.
Russ: Ok. It’s pretty crowded in here.
Maclean: So this is a great example of the fact that everything at Houston Makerspace is in a constant state of change. You can see that we need a little bit more space, so we’ll be expanding this shop into the room next to it over the next month or so.
Russ: Ok, and so the gentleman operating over here right now, is he the lead in the print shop?
Maclean: Absolutely. This is Ben Kennemer. He runs a company called Avenue Prints, and he prints a lot of shirts every month out of our facility.
Russ: Ok, wow. Well, speaking of t-shirts, there were some fantastic looking Houston Makerspace t-shirts when we walked in. Did they come from this print shop?
Maclean: They sure did.
Russ: Ok, wow, it’s kind of a neat design, too. Tell us about that.
Maclean: Let me tell you a funny story. When Ben and I were talking about him coming to Houston and being a part of Houston Makerspace, he visited the space to talk logistics and brought me a gift. He was a little nervous about it because he realized he hadn’t gotten the gift approved beforehand, and he showed me that shirt, and you’ll see on the shirt it’s a welder, and like a nebula, or a milky way or something, and he said, “Get it? He’s making space.”
Russ: Ok, so cool t-shirts. Now they’re even cooler.
Maclean: Yeah, I said I love it, print me 300 more.
Russ: All right, great. So, what’s next?
Maclean: Well, let’s go out into the open area and look at our ceramics, wood, and welding shops.
Russ: Great. Let’s do it.
Maclean: So over here you can see our ceramics shop (
Russ: Ok), and again, constant state of change. We’ve just recently hired a new ceramics shop lead named Stacy Kuropata,
Russ: This is Stacy.
Maclean: From Kuropottery (
Russ: Ok.), and Stacy is going to spend the next 2 months remodeling, reorganizing, and reprogramming our ceramics shop. We’re really excited about it.
Russ: Ok. I guess ceramics is probably pretty popular, isn’t it?
Maclean: It is. It is. It’s a relatively easy thing to get into, but there’s a lot you can do with it and it takes some work to get really good at it.
Russ: Ok, ok. All right, so how about, what, woodworking next?
Maclean: Yeah, let’s go to our wood shop.
Russ: All right.
Maclean: So, this is easily one of our most popular shops (
Russ: Makes sense.). Again, like ceramics, woodworking is relatively easy to get into, but there’s a lot you can do with it.
Russ: Yes. Cool, cool. Lots of power tools. So who leads this part?
Maclean: We’ve actually, again, another new hire, Eric Gonzalez. He is going to be launching his own brand, but he hasn’t created it yet. So, we’re looking forward to helping him create and launch.
Russ: Do you by chance ever find those leads because they come in here first and want to use the space and the tools and then they become the lead?
Maclean: Absolutely, and that’s exactly what’s happened with Eric. I will say our main woodworking instructor is Jake Rynearson from Steamboat Ampworks. He makes guitar amps for a living and runs the Houston Guys Building Guitars Club, which meets here once a month. So, it’s really really cool to see the people that have found this facility and are using this facility and ending up working for this facility, because it’s fun.
Russ: It’s kind of; something about it here feels something like an accelerator, too.
Maclean: Absolutely. We absolutely have inadvertently become an incubator and an accelerator for handmade small businesses, and we love it. We love being a part of that process.
Russ: Neat, ok. Ok, so welding is next…
Maclean: Yeah, let’s go take a look at that. So, back behind me here you can see kind of a little bit of open space, and then our welding shop in the back. That shop is run by Ford and Hillary Waters from FMW | fablab, and you can also see Sanjay, our facilities team lead, doing some work today to improve the welding shop; again, constant state of change.
Russ: There’s lots of equipment in here that, in my opinion, would be expensive. I mean, welding is probably pretty expensive for you, isn’t it?
Maclean: It sure is.
Russ: Ok, and is it popular too, though?
Maclean: It is. Our Welding I class is about to have a second offering every month because it’s so popular.
We have a waiting list for that class every single month, and we’re actually booked out 3 months in advance. So, we’re expanding that shop a little bit, we’re improving that shop a little bit, and we’re going to be offering more classes in that shop. But if you think about it, to become fully trained in welding at Houston Makerspace, it only costs about $300. It’s hard to find it that cheap.
Russ: That’s impossible to find that low.
Maclean: Yeah. And that’s a really big, of big importance to us is to try and offer these services, these resources, this education for as reasonable a price as possible so that people can form their businesses.
Russ: Ok, really cool; all right. We’ve seen the 5 areas, but I know there’s more, too. Tell us more.
Maclean: Yeah. In addition to our 5 shops, we have one more area onsite and one area offsite that are managed by other companies. And those two are the Sown & Grown teaching farm, which exists onsite, and we’ll take a look at that in a second, and we also have just partnered with Post-Studio Projects, which is a dedicated laser cutting studio about a half mile from here, and Post-Studio will be offering all of our laser cutting and rapid prototyping amenities from here on out.
Russ: Ok. So, before we go outside, I want to go outside and see that too, but I also noticed that you have this space now that it’s not cubicles but it’s like work spaces. Does anybody have access to those?
Maclean: Not anyone, and that’s different since the last time you were here. One thing that we noticed people were really asking for was, it would be this scenario: Wow, it’s really great that I have access to the tools and machines I need to manufacture these products, but I still need a place to sit and update my website; send and receive emails, and answer emails from clients; meet with clients; a place that has air conditioning, because about half of our shops are air conditioned, but none of these are, which is typical. So, we have remodeled our upstairs room to be a dedicated desk space, and we have 7 desks that someone could rent on a monthly basis to just have a desk, have their own little space. And then we have also made about 2000 square feet of our floor space available if someone wanted to have their own little private studio. We can split that up pretty much any size they want up to 600 square feet.
Russ: And it’s their space. I mean, they can lock it up if they want to.
Russ: Ok, cool; all right. So, let’s go outside.
Russ: So the teaching farm we’re going to, is it the same thing that you had at your other facility? I mean, it was a big garden out there.
Maclean: Yeah, sort of. So, at our previous facility, our teaching farm was run by Edible Earth Resources, and when we moved to this facility, Edible Earth Resources was ready to graduate, and essentially, get their own space, because—
Russ: It’s bright out here.
Maclean: It is bright out here. Isn’t it a gorgeous day? (
Russ: It is.) They’ve gotten to the point where they can justify their own space (
Russ: Ok). So, Becca Verm from Sown & Grown found us and needed a place to headquarter her organic farming business, and it was a perfect fit. So, you can see her shade garden behind us, and let’s take a walk into the greenhouse and meet Becca.
Russ: Ok, great. So, wow, just like an official greenhouse.
Maclean: Yeah, Becca just built this a couple months ago, and this is Becca from Sown & Grown.
Russ: Hi Becca.
Becca: Hello, how’s it going?
Maclean: And Sown & Grown is an organic farming company that sells produce to local restaurants like Uchi. Becca has a CSA program if you want to get a bag of produce a week from her farm, and she also has her veggie cart at the Eastside Farmer’s Market every Sunday. So you can buy seedlings directly from her.
Russ: Ok, now but is this similar at all to the other 5 shops? I mean, can people come and learn gardening from Becca?
Maclean: Yes. So, Becca is starting to offer some classes through her own website, which is great, and just recently she’s made herself available during office hours on, I believe, is it Tuesdays and Fridays?
Becca: Tuesdays and Fridays, yes.
Maclean: Tuesdays and Fridays if you want to come and ask a farmer.
Russ: Great; great, fantastic. So, this is impressive.
Maclean: Isn’t it gorgeous? And on a day like today.
Russ: It really is; real impressive, Maclean, the whole thing. I’ve really enjoyed this. I want to come back and see how all this stuff expands and grows.
Maclean: Can you believe how much it’s changed since you’ve been here?
Russ: It’s significant. It felt great before; it feels better now. So, if people want to know where it is, they can just check out your sign right here, 3605 Texas.
Maclean: We’re really impressed with our new sign.
Russ: What do you want people to do? Say somebody is watching; how do they get in touch with you to say, hey I want to come over there, I want to join up. What do they do?
Maclean: We try to make it pretty easy. It’s just www.houstonmakerspace.com. Hopefully it has most of the information you need. Additionally, we love giving people tours, you know this. You’ve come by a couple times.
Russ: Absolutely; I have.
Maclean: And you can do that Tuesday through Saturday from 1-7pm, or Sunday from noon-5. We’ll always have a front desk associate on staff to show you around.
Russ: Ok, Maclean, thank you so much.
Maclean: It was so great to see you again.
Russ: You bet.
Maclean: We’ll see you soon.
Russ: You bet.
Maclean: You’re going to be a member soon.
Russ: I am. I am. You’re right. And that wraps up my discussion with Maclean Smyth, and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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