TechShop’s “Innovation Cathedral” Comes to San Francisco—Serving Craftsmen and Entrepreneurs on the Gold’s Gym Model
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conventional server cooling systems. “They used our machines to build their cabinet, our powder coater to make it look like it came from China, our vinyl cutter for professional-looking logos,” says Hatch. In December 2009, the company won a $2.8 million grant under the Recovery Act to build a larger demonstration system for the Stanford Linear Accelerator’s computing department, and this October it won a “Chill Off” conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“$250 billion was spent last year around the world cooling servers,” says Hatch. “A 30 percent improvement is $80 billion in savings. So these guys, by themselves, on a $2,400 initial investment plus their time and other equipment, may have solved an $80 billion a year problem.”
Dodocase and Clustered Systems have long since graduated to other facilities, since TechShop isn’t set up for large-scale, ongoing production. “If you’re doing more than 1,000 units of something, you’ve probably outgrown our space,” says Hatch. But there are plenty more entrepreneurs coming up behind them. “My guess is that 30 to 40 percent of the members are trying to sell something and will tell you that, and another 20 percent are hopeful but don’t want to admit it, sometimes even to themselves,” says Hatch. “At least, that is our experience in Menlo Park.” The rest of TechShop’s users? They’re “lifelong learners, making gifts for themselves or friends, or doing it for the pure enjoyment.”
At one time, TechShop’s Howard Street building was used to distribute fresh-off-the-press newspapers to delivery trucks, and as a repair shop for broken newsstands. The TechShop opening is part of a larger plan to revitalize the entire superblock, which is bisected by Minna Street and Natoma Alley and dominated by the 1924 San Francisco Chronicle building. The Chronicle’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, is working with real estate management giant Forest City (NYSE: FCE) to turn the area into a “creative cluster” under the rubric 5M, after the intersection of 5th Street and Mission Street. It has already found tenants like the payments startup Square, the gadgets blog GDGT, The Hub co-working space, and the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking.
Hatch says Forest City executives saw TechShop as an ideal “anchor tenant” for this nascent cluster, “like dropping a theater into a strip mall.” If the 5M project never takes off, TechShop “works just fine by itself,” Hatch says. “But it can catalyze a broader effort.”
The ground-level portion of TechShop San Francisco’s 17,000-square-foot facility wasn’t quite finished when I visited last week. But the upper level, a vaulted-ceiling area that Hatch calls the “innovation cathedral,” will play host to a public open house this Saturday, December 18. A real grand opening is planned for January or February, after which Hatch will turn his attention to the San Jose, Detroit, and Brooklyn locations.
Avid makers and TechShop fans may want to listen to my entire hour-long conversation with Hatch and Newton. Click the play button below, or download the MP3 here. The first 12 minutes or so consist of a guided tour of the TechShop facility. For the final minute or two of the recording the conversation is drowned out (appropriately enough) by a power saw.