Inside A Makerspace

Aug 17, 2018

The Innevation Center in downtown Reno opened its doors in 2015. Designed to be an incubator for tech startups, the upper floors are filled with the kinds of things you would expect in an office space. However, the basement was set aside for something more unique, a "makerspace." Our reporter Tim Lenard has the story.

Through a heavy security door and down a flight of grey concrete stairs, an array of computers, workbenches and 3D printers of all shapes and sizes fill the design lab, the first section of the makerspace. Here, normal people can have access to the kind of expensive, high-tech equipment and software that used to be reserved for large companies.

Nevada Jumpstarter is a startup company with an office in the makerspace. Their business is helping people take a concept and turn it into something real.

“If we go way back it was started with me John and Daniel building projects together,” says CEO Michael Gillette. “We’re in this space where makers and businesses and people from the University come. Everyone wants to build something but not everyone has the skills to do so.”

Below, Michael Gillette's custom built 3D pritner works on a prototype.

Gillette says when they started out here, they had no intention of having an office or even starting a company.

“That’s why we’re in a storage closet," He says. "There’s not a lot of room in the space, but its kind of the perfect room for us because we’re right down in the basement where we do all our prototyping.”

Since they are based at the Innevation Center, they also have help from business mentors, who donate their time helping small businesses get off the ground. The spirit of helping each other out and do it yourself is a big part of the maker ethos.

“Up on the second floor, it’s a coworking space,” says Crystal Harvey the Makerspace Manager. “We have a need for phone booths. If you were to buy one of those, including shipping, you’re starting at around eight or nine grand. So we decided to see if we can build one that looks pretty good for half that.”

Harvey is in charge of keeping everything up and running and coordinating all the student workers. Most of the time the students, from the University of Nevada Reno, are busy learning programs or fixing machines. However, she says, they are one of the few labs on campus where students are allowed to do non-school-related work.

On the wall of the design lab in the makerspace.
Credit Tim Lenard

“20 percent of their time is expected to be working on something that I have not given them,” says Harvey. “It's so important that they stay excited and passionate about maker culture because otherwise, they can’t pass that passion on to the people that come down here.”

The guys at Nevada Jumpstarter take a similar approach to their business, says Gillette. “Every once in a while we just throw something together that doesn’t have any monetary value, but we learn new skills.”

One of those projects, as seen below, was connecting a piano to the sign outside their office. Crystal Harvey and Daniel Smith perform the duet.

Another project was a fully-automatic Nerf gun. They reversed engineered it from a design they found online and it helped them learn more about electric motors. Gillette says he signs around four non-disclosure agreements a week, meaning he can’t talk about many of the projects they’ve worked on. So the gun also works as something that demonstrates their capabilities to prospective clients.

“We’ve turned our office into a playground at this point,” says John Kirkpatrick, Chief Operating Officer for Nevada Jumpstarter. “We have tons of sensors and toys to play with.”

Kirkpatrick programs all the internal circuitry for the prototypes they make. He says navigating the business world has been one of the biggest challenges for the company.

“IP and patent work for sure is frustrating But I think what’s more frustrating is just figuring out how to run a company,” says Kirkpatrick. “There’s three engineers and we have a lot of awesome business mentors and that’s the only reason we’re afloat still. So, it makes a big difference.”

That difference is being felt across the across the globe. According to Popular Science magazine, the number of makerspaces worldwide has increased nearly 1400 percent since 2006.

As a point of disclosure, the Innevation Center is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education which also holds the license for this station.