You know the feeling. You’ve got an idea, a project. You’re ready to get to work, some soldering, maybe some laser-cutting, but dang it, the workshop you used to go to got priced out of their space because of dumb Brooklyn rent. Well, now the workspace can come to you.
It’s called Alpha One Labs and it’s the work of Williamsburg maker/hacker/inventor Sean Auriti.
“Early on I thought I’d need a million-dollar lab to start all my inventions but I went to some talks and thought I could do it a different way,” Auriti said in an interview. “It was really just for me but then I thought I could open it up to the public and see if other people would want to use the space to work. It’s different from how a lot of hackerspaces started.”
The Alpha One Labs truck looks like a FedEx truck with everything taken out of the back and replaced with desks and all the work equipment you could need to make stuff.
Auriti says it measures 25-by-8 feet and could easily accommodate four people working at the same time. Eventually, Auriti envisions a mobile app where people can request to use the truck. He’ll drive it to a convenient location, park and open up shop.
He started about six years ago, and the first space was a regular old building, on Maspeth Street, near the Graham L stop. He fashioned a little workshop out of it and decided to open it up to the public. He took contributions and membership fees from people who wanted to use the space and financed the rest of the $300 a month rent himself.
“My friends started joining and we got to a good amount of members and we were even starting to work on becoming a nonprofit,” Auriti recalled.
But then something familiar happened. Someone bought the building and informed Auriti that rent was going to go from $300 a month to $2,000.
So Auriti went looking for a new location for Alpha One Labs. He found a dilapidated-sounding factory in Greenpoint that worked. It was 17,000 square feet, dirty floors, no heat and no air conditioning in the summer. It was perfect, until it wasn’t.
So they moved again to a storefront on Meeker, tucked away under the BQE. When the tractor trailers would rumble overhead, you could feel it in the floor. It was more expensive, but it worked, too, for a time. It was far from the train and also had some unusual characters, including someone trying to run an iPhone repair shop out of the space, and, “A guy who we found out was sleeping there,” Auriti said. “So we moved the couch. And then we would come in in the morning and find him sleeping in the bathroom, so it was really bad. We lost a lot of members. We had to sell some laser cutters to make the rent.”
So now he’s taking the truck mobile. All this has been a side project for Auriti, although he’s thinking of applying for some grants and making it a full-time gig. He’s worked as a developer and CTO at a couple financial and tech firms in the city, but did not sound engaged by that work.
“I have so many ideas and inventions that could help people,” he said.-30-