Photos by Kyle DeRodes
Without the proper equipment or space, these ideas simply sit idle and never become a reality.
Topeka now has two venues where big ideas can become a reality. 712 Innovations and the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library have found ways to bring these resources to the people of Topeka by using two new workspace concepts: Makerspace and Coworking Space.
712 Innovations, a 5,000 square foot facility located in downtown Topeka at 712 South Kansas Avenue, opened in February 2015. This combination of a makerspace and coworking space will give entrepreneurs, dreamers, students and creative thinkers a place to grow and exchange support.
“We are trying to make entrepreneurship more accessible by lowering that barrier to entry,” said Jared Starkey, executive director of 712 Innovations. “You don’t have to buy that equipment; you don’t have to sign a lease anywhere; you don’t have to do it all on your own; you don’t have to sit by yourself at home. Here, you will have a social support structure; you will have an economic support structure; you will have resources and tools that will help you get started.”
712 Innovations has coworking space to allow the entrepreneur to get out of the house and into a positive, innovative environment where hopefully he or she will be inspired. The facility includes 100Mbit Internet and high-speed wireless network, a conference room that seats up to 22 people with a digital whiteboard and projector, desks that can be reserved, a phone room and shared break room with free coffee.
The facility is also a makerspace providing machinery and equipment for individuals to build or create ideas. The five categories of machinery and equipment available are:
“We want to bring people in, give them access to tools, and then put them in an environment that encourages creativity and entrepreneurship,” Starkey said.
Participation in 712 Innovations requires a membership. Several different tiers of memberships are available providing different levels of access to the facility. A full membership costs $50 a month and allows access to the facility 24 hours a day, 7 days a week using a key fob for access.
“If genius hits you at 2 o’clock in the morning you can come in, there are no rules against that,” Starkey said.
712 Innovations is about more than having the tools, equipment and space available for its members. Its founders are interested in helping members become better equipped and educated.
Every month the facility will offer volunteer classes where members share ideas or teach a special skill or technique. Space-sponsored courses will also instruct members on how to use specific tools and equipment.
“We are going to offer regular courses that show you how to use the soldering equipment, the laser cutter and the milling machine. We are imparting skills to the people who use this space,” Starkey said.
In addition to these courses, 712 Innovations will also offer a programming structure that helps members with topics including, starting a new business, help with bookkeeping, increasing profit sales, a marketing class and how to deal with hiring employees.
Starkey says 712 Innovations is a springboard to success, not a permanent business location. “It’s about growing people from coming in on weekends and evenings, to going full time and then getting out to establish wealth.”
The Topeka Shawnee County Public Library added its makerspace room called the Make-It Lab on Dec. 8. Lisa Brien, Make-It Lab and 20/30s Librarian, says it has been very successful, but is still in the early stages of development.
“We are still in Pilot. If the room is really successful, we hope to grow it,” she said. “Right now we are in the first month, and we are seeing what works and what does not. We are still figuring out what people want and care about.”
Brien says the purpose behind the lab was to give people in Topeka the opportunity to work and create with tools and equipment not commonly available.
“We want to provide this technology to people who may not have access to it,” Brien said. “Libraries are progressively becoming not just receptacles for books, but a place where people can create content as well, not just consume it.”
The Make-It Lab has two Apple iMac computers with programs such as iMovie, Garage Band, Adobe Creator Suite and Google Sketchup. These programs can be used to edit photographs, create and edit videos, create digital art and graphic design, and record music. The space has a keyboard, scanner, microphones, Wacom digital drawing table, camcorder and 3D printer.
Brien says library members may use the room for free. They simply reserve the room for up to three hours at a time. 3D creations are $5 no matter what size and just need to be completed during the three-hour reservation.
“We would love it if someone wanted to create a commercial or create a prototype here,” Brien said.
Both 712 Innovations and the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library see the need for exploration, innovation and growth. But beyond that, they see the creative potential in Topeka.