MotoMinded was just an idea on Friday. By Monday it was a website. On Tuesday, the company made its first sale.
Chris Vestal said his idea moved from concept to development over a weekend, but — thanks to technology and co-working spaces — that abbreviated path is becoming increasingly normal for startup retailers. Vestal, a co-founder of the Pikes Peak Makerspace (pikespeakmakerspace.org) in Manitou Springs, launched his dirt bike product manufacturing company in hours, thanks to previous 3D printing know-how he’d acquired while subcontracting for General Motors. After leaving GM and starting his own technical animation company in Indiana, Vestal moved to Colorado Springs, where MotoMinded was born. His technical and startup experience helped lead to the creation of the existing Manitou Springs makerspace, with a second in the works.
“Not having a makerspace in the Springs, I wanted a place where people could come and, maybe not as fast as I did it, learn how to draw in 3D and have access to 3D printers and a community of experts around them,” he said. “It gives someone with an idea a chance to turn it around quickly and sell it.”
Building an engine
The majority of the roughly 70 members of the Pikes Peak Makerspace in Manitou Springs are hobbyists. Most pay monthly memberships — starting at $55 — to come in and play on machines, some of which cost the equivalent of a used sedan. But about 30 percent of its members, according to Pikes Peak Makerspace co-founder Greg Cook, are using the space to incubate business. Co-working spaces that produce something tangible for sale, he said, are changing the face of retail.
“Our intent is to develop businesses,” Cook said. “This will be an economic development engine.”
The large rear room in the Manitou Arts Center is cluttered with 3D printers, a laser etcher and cutter, metal-working and electronics stations, and a sign-printing and woodworking shop. The organization is pursuing film production equipment, thanks to a grant from the state, Vestal said.
In the primary workspace, donated computer components sit alongside a functional rocket engine. A Tesla coil stands tall in the center of the room and mockups of lightsaber handles are sketched on a dry erase board. While novelties and knickknacks make up a chunk of development at the makerspace, several users are creating retail products more rapidly and more affordably than they could have independently.
Ken Cowdery recently moved to Manitou Springs to be closer to family. For 25 years, Cowdery taught graphic arts and digital media to high school students in Bloomington, Ill. After moving to Colorado last year, he found the makerspace.
“It was the perfect place to spend my days in retirement and try to start an art business,” he said.
Cowdery now has access to the $8,000 laser etcher and cutter that he uses to create artpieces.
Additionally, Cowdery’s tight living quarters restrict his working at home. Before coming to the Pikes Peak Makerspace, he hadn’t used a laser cutter, but instruction was included in his monthly dues. Within the last several months, Cowdery has created Facebook and Etsy websites to sell his wares.
“I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if the makerspace hadn’t been here,” he said, adding a smaller personal investment means failures are less of a setback. “If [the makerspace] went away, maybe I could buy a cheap laser cutter. But starting out, I couldn’t possibly justify an $8,000 investment on the idea that I might sell something.”
More space needed
Vestal moved to Colorado in 2008 and was one of the first members at Epicentral Coworking on North Tejon Street.
While working there, he had the idea for a pillbox that could hold fuel injection equipment and filters, stored under a dirt bike’s seat.
He had his own 3D printer at the coworking space and printed his concept so he could obtain feedback from other Epicentral members.
“The startup community was key,” he said, adding those same sorts of connections are being built at the makerspace.
“I just thought at the time, ‘This could be a product,’” Vestal said. “Instead of going a traditional route, making a prototype and getting them mass-produced, I did the production myself with 3D printing.”
That was in 2013, and today MotoMinded has grown to about 20 products.
Vestal is able to pass along his expertise to new makerspace members, creating a talent pool for hire, he said. The existing space is nearly at capacity in its first year. A second location is expected to open this year at the Gazette’s former campus on East Pikes Peak Avenue.
Cook is quite literally building a better mousetrap.
Pikes Peak Makerspace is a nonprofit that helps propel some of its members toward the for-profit arena, but Traction Tractor is being created solely as a for-profit arm of the business.
For Traction Tractor, Cook is creating a mousetrap sensor system that will contact the user electronically, indicating the trap was activated.
Volunteers at the makerspace created a prosthetic hand for someone in need, and Vestal said medical device manufacturing at the space could become a small-scale industry in the future.
But there have been successes already, Vestal said. A Manitou Springs toy shop owner produces goods within the space.
“The owner is a member, and he comes over and makes puzzles and trinkets on our laser cutter. Those products are sold right out of his shop. There’s no middleman, no shipping costs and they’ve created their own brand.”
Traction Tractor, once better established, can also help market member products online for a small fee, Vestal said.
“It will allow people to test their market and see if they can go from a hobbyist to a professional,” he said. “Nonprofits are slow moving. Being a for-profit makes the process move faster and we can spin off [DBA, or Doing Business As] companies. Hopefully you’ll outgrow us and get your own business. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Cook said the makerspace is “for anyone who wants to get an idea into the physical world,” adding those who join without ideas of their own quickly become involved.
“Hang out for a week or two and that problem will get fixed,” he said. “You’ll either dive into someone else’s project or you’ll start one of your own.”
Cook said his mousetrap is an example of the evolving Internet of Things, where everyday devices benefit from web connectivity. That field is primed for makerspace users, he said.
“By 2018, it’s expected half of the things that will be connected will be created by companies that don’t exist yet,” Cook said. “But they are developing in places like makerspaces and Epicentrals. The big Fortune 500 companies — in 15 years, most of them won’t be around anymore.”
Cook said the crossroads of disruptive products and alternative production means has been reached.
“We’re at the beginning of this hockey stick curve where things really take off,” he said. “It’s a new model and a lot of it has to do with the internet and knowledge sharing and crowd funding.”
And Cook said co-working spaces have one sizable advantage over traditional companies.
“As corporations grow, they tend to start weeding out creativity,” he said. “They become built for efficiency, so all the creatives are out of jobs. What do they do? They’re coming to makerspaces and building new ones.”