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NextFab officially opens in Wilmington’s Creative District

The expansion by the Philadelphia-based makerspace means space and opportunity for Wilmington creatives. Burgeoning hardware startups, take note. This could be big.

NextFab signage in Wilmington. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

NextFab, a collaborative makerspace network, officially has a new location in the heart of Wilmington’s Creative District, at 503 Tatnall St. Dozens of members of Delaware’s innovation community celebrated the opening at a Wednesday afternoon event.

Founded by Evan Malone in West Philadelphia in 2009, the Wilmington space joins locations in South Philly (where the operation moved to when it outgrew the University City Science Center) and North Philly. Plans for the Wilmington expansion were first announced in late 2015.

Part coworking space, part educational space, part entrepreneurial incubator, NextFab’s model is membership-based, with various levels ranging from $20 to $299 a month. What tenants get is access to brand-new, state-of-the-art facilities — including laser-cutting labs, 2D and 3D printers, an electronics lab and a software-training lab.

As Technical.ly Philly has chronicled over the years, perhaps the most interesting thing about NextFab is its ability to incubate promising hardware startups.

“NextFab is a model for advancing the critical priority of strengthening entrepreneurial networks in our region,” one economic development expert wrote in 2015.

The hope is that Wilmington can reap some of the same benefits.

A NextFab staffer. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

A NextFab staffer. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

NextFab’s model suits small startups that have grown out of conventional coworking spaces, but aren’t yet big enough for their own. Plus, access to key tools is very important.

“We found a gap in the market where we had companies that had five or six employees and a physical product, and needed space for, say, 7,000 products,” Ken Tomlinson, NextFab’s CFO, explains. “You’re not going to find a coworking space that’s going to let you bring a pallet of 7,000 products. It’s really filling this in-between space — they’re not ready for a full warehouse. They’re right in between, and there was nowhere for them to go.”

But it’s not all about burgeoning startups: The Wilmington Renaissance Corporation started a scholarship program to sponsor students and makers, funding their memberships and classes. Wilmington University, which offers a Maker Certificate, has also bought a large block of memberships for its students, and will be teaching some classes at the facility.

As you might guess, NextFab has a lot of support in Wilmington, especially from the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation. The makerspace recieved a $350,000 grant from the state-backed Delaware Strategic Fund, which made this expansion possible.

“Evan started coming down to Wilmington four or five years ago to meet with the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation and Dr. Carrie Gray,” said Tomlinson. “They wanted to bring artists and creative folks to the specific area of Wilmington. Dr. Gray had come up to see what we were doing in Philly and really wanted to work with us. She worked closely with us and the Delaware Department of Economic Development to help us acquire a grant from the State of Delaware to build the space.”

A 3D printer at NextFab Wilmington. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

A 3D printer at NextFab Wilmington. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

It wasn’t cheap. Software alone was $100,000, not to mention the extensive renovations to the once-abandoned building.

Now that it’s officially open, you can learn more and join NextFab Wilmington. Membership gets you access to all of the company’s facilities. Learn more here.

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

Companies: Wilmington Alliance / Wilmington Renaissance Corporation / NextFab

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