It was by chance that Andrew Stroup and Corey Fleischer, two locals-turned-contestants on a new engineering-focused Discovery Channel TV show, met Jason Hardebeck, the executive director of gb.tc.
But despite having only met earlier this year, the three had more in common than they knew: each thought it was high time Baltimore city had its own makerspace — a large, indoor area replete with machine tools, digital tools like 3D printers and equipment for woodworking and metalworking — on par with similar spaces in other cities in the U.S.
Through their time on the show, Stroup and Fleischer met Gui Cavalcanti, who started the Artisan’s Asylum makerspace in Boston, a sprawling, 40,000-square-foot complex where members renting space brew their own beer, construct their own bikes and sculpt pieces of art from metal. After spending a weekend there in mid-January, the two were convinced they needed to find a place within Baltimore where any resident could do the same type of work.
“Baltimore has everything that we saw at Artisan’s Asylum: the level of artists, engineers, hobbyists,” said Fleischer, 31, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from UMBC, and now works at Lockheed Martin in Middle River. “Baltimore has those people, and Baltimore does not have a space like that where everyone can go.”
After taking meetings with several other maker enthusiasts here, including members of the Baltimore Node hackerspace in Station North, Stroup and Fleischer were introduced to Hardebeck, who, before becoming gb.tc’s executive director in December 2011, was the founder of WhoGlue, which Facebook acquired in 2011.
(See photos of the new Baltimore Node space here.)
It was a match made for makers: nearly a year ago Hardebeck had purchased, on his own, two buildings on South Central Avenue just south of East Pratt Street — 201 Central and 207 Central — under the umbrella organization Baltimore Machine Works, with the intention of transforming both buildings into makerspace facilities. The three agreed to become cofounders of the space at 207 Central, and with that arrangement in place, they set to work.
- It’s what they call Baltimore Foundery (the misspelling is deliberate). The total area is 4,000 square feet, split evenly between two floors. Classes are held on the bottom floor — it’s where Fleischer taught the introductory welding course — with the top floor reserved for any number of things still being decided: Arduino classes, for instance, or a coworking space for makers.
- The Foundery hosted its first free class, a three-hour introductory welding course, which was put on the first Sunday in April for eight people.
- Hardebeck describes it as a “campus for makers,” the place where people can learn maker techniques and how to operate tools, like CNC routers and plasma cutters
The three cofounders will host a variety of classes there to gauge people’s interest to ultimately determine what city residents are interested in learning and, therefore, what tools are needed.
“We want to provide the services that Baltimore needs, not tell them the services they should be using,” said Stroup, 27, a systems engineer for the Department of Defense who graduated from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering.
So far, they’ve been sponsoring classes on a “beta” scale for members of the Foundery Meetup group, and have accepted donations of equipment or have purchased tools on their own.
But already inside 207 Central is a drill press, a bandsaw and an anvil for a forge and metalworking. In time, classes will cost a nominal amount — enough to reinvest any money made into more tools for the space.
While Hardebeck said the “idea is to create a sustainable model,” he also said they’re “not viewing this as a for-profit.”
“There’s little money in makerspaces,” he said.
Still, the long-term goal for 207 Central is “to have industrial tools, metalworking tools, machines, woodworking tools — enough tools where people can come in and start and finish a project, and have everything they need right there,” Fleischer said.
That notion is also at the crux of the the larger, 19,000-square-foot building at 201 Central Avenue. It’s an “entity separate from” the Foundery, said Hardebeck, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. Whereas he and his Foundery cofounders see the space at 207 Central as the recruiting and learning grounds for future makers, Hardebeck wants to one day fill 201 Central with tools and open it up to residents if the demand for a bigger, community makerspace materializes.
It could be Baltimore’s version of Artisan’s Asylum, although with respect to such particulars as membership dues or rates for renting room inside, Hardebeck isn’t that far along in his thinking just yet.
Of course, other makerspaces in the city do exist. There’s the aforementioned Node on Oliver Street. Fab Lab Baltimore, while not directly inside the city limits, is open to the public at the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.
But Stroup, Fleischer and Hardebeck hope that growing interest in what the Foundery offers by way of classes will show that residents here are looking for a large-scale makerspace in downtown Baltimore where they can build prototypes of manufactured products and form new businesses.
Because, whereas few people in Baltimore have the resources to become “coders and programmers,” Hardebeck said, people “can understand how to become CNC machine operators.”
In effect, that’s the grandest wish Hardebeck — a former product manager at DeWALT — harbors for the new makerspace: a place that can foster the next generation of blue-collar workers in Baltimore city by offering a community workshop so people can have access to good equipment and classes. In turn, people can become entrepreneurs building products in their own small-scale manufacturing facility, albeit one they share with other makers.
It’s not all that farfetched. A recent VentureBeat story chronicled the rise of Marc Roth, a formerly homeless man in San Francisco who used the tools and classes available at the TechShop makerspace to retrain — he was once a C Sharp programmer — and found several hardware startups.
“People need a place to experiment and try stuff,” said Hardebeck. “We’re not just making things — we’re making companies and making people.”