Interview report: Shane Nestle | General Manager of TechShop Austin-Round Rock

Interviewed by the Observatory of Educational Innovation

TechShop is a platform focused on democratizing access to the tools, information, resources and community needed to design and innovate. TechShop Austin-Round Rock is a 17,000-square-foot facility packed with cutting edge tools, equipment and computer software. It offers classes, workshops and meet-ups for people of all ages and skill levels, that are interested in creating new things for themselves (TechShop, 2016).  

Observatory: What are the different areas inside the TechShop?

Shane N.: We have a woodworking shop, a textiles area, the metalworking which includes welding, thin gauge metals, rolling, shaping, and bending for tanks or enclosures. Also there is a water jet which cut through about six inches of anything, the paint coding areas with sand blasting, and the plastics area where you can bend, fold, shape, injection molding, and vacuum forming.

On the other hand there is also the hub, which is the center of all activity. It’s really the point where all the intellectual exchange typically occurs, we get to talk to people, see the other people’s projects and where everything comes off of. We also have the conference areas for private meetings, or for large gatherings. We have the computer work stations spread out through the hub, and some in groups as well. The electronics lab and a machine shop.

Observatory: Are there other configurations of tech shops in different places that have other kind of machinery?

Shane N.: For the most part, they’re the same. We try to keep everything very close to being the same type of offerings, because as a member at one store, you’re a member at all of the stores. And that means also the training part of each piece of the equipment, in order for you to use it.

Observatory: Are you planning to incorporate new areas that you have seen, that there’s interest for your membership?

Shane N.: Yes. We’re always open to that, so we evaluate each piece of new technology as it’s coming out to see if it makes sense to put into the stores. A lot of times, one store will test it and see how it works, before we decide to roll it out to other stores.

Observatory: What would you say has been the impact that this TechShop has generated in the two years that it is has been in Austin?

Shane N.: That’s a good question. Really, we’re giving a lot of people the ability to start their own businesses. There’s a lot of people who are coming in here who were either laid off, or just got out the military. We do have a large veteran’s membership package.

Just for example, for them, they come in after being in the military, they’re looking for a job or an opportunity to do something. And so, there’s actually a lot of veterans who’ve come in, and they’re starting to build their own businesses using the tools and resources here. That’s actually a common thing with a lot of people outside of VA as well. They come in and start their businesses or their ideas, or they just come in here with an interest, and they find that what they’re doing is part of a lot of other people’s questions and curiosity, or they want to buy it or deal with it. And then, they start thinking, “Well, I can build a business.” And so they start experimenting with that. And, we greatly reduce the cost for these people, in order for them to start their businesses. They don’t have to have that capital investment that is often necessary.

Observatory: How fast would you say people that comes here with no previous experience, can start to do stuff or prototype?

Shane N.: It’s going to greatly vary from person to person. What we’re primarily set up to do is, first teach you to use the tools safely, just so you can then experiment. And then we do have classes beyond the first use of the tool, to try to help you start learning the next step how welding for example the first class is basically the basics of getting the machine running, what you’re trying to do, and just get you safely starting your first steps. Then we have a series, a ladder of classes. So the next classes come in and learn how proper weld looks, how to set the machine, and you start going up into different materials. You go into aluminums. You go to different steps that take a little bit of time. But the advantage too is that, we provide all of the tools and equipment that you need. So that you can literally just come in, sit down, and experiment on your own time, and put the time in without even investing another dime into any of the equipment and materials to learn kind of rapidly increases your learning capability.

Back to saying it depends on each individual, how much they’re willing to do the research, and how fast they learn, how quickly they learn and how inquisitive they are. That’s the big factor too. A lot of people who are inquisitive are willing to make mistakes. I think that’s a big thing in the United States, is that we’ve taught, “Don’t make mistakes. You need to be perfect.”, and so people are afraid to try. But successful people overcome this obstacle. They understand that they’re going to make mistakes. And so, they’re willing to go and make the mistakes. And there’s a saying here basically that says, “Fail often, fail fast. So that you can get to the solution” so, depending if you’re already somewhat technically knowledgeable in the software, you can rapidly prototype virtually with the software’s. We’re partnered with Autodesk, and they have software inventor which you can actually build a machine, you can put it into motion, you can check the stresses, you can check the heat and so on. You can see if things are going to collide. You can build your machine virtually first, and then start building the parts. So that part alone just being able to see what it’s going to do and tweak you parts, or say, “What if I change this part to this?”, is really where the rapid advancement comes.

Observatory: You have to pay for a course or the courses are part of the membership that you pay?

Shane N.: You pay for each course as you like it or need it.

Observatory: What’s the average cost of a course, and how long it last? Shane N.: Generally, like 30 to $40 USD an hour.

Observatory: Do I have to pay a fee to be a member of TechShop?

Shane N.: Yes. Membership is fee-based, and it’s daily, monthly, yearly. We give you different options. Pricing is on the web as well.

Observatory: What do you think about that TechShop can contribute to educational sector?

Shane N.: There are people who already have the knowledge base and the knowledge set, who are willing to talk to their fellow members and share that knowledge. The instructors are also typically from the membership. Almost every instructor is a member as well. We get our instructors based on the fact that they already typically have a very deep knowledge set in that specific area. And that they’re willing to come in and share that information with others, just because like to do that. We also compensate them. We’re looking for people who do have the depth of knowledge in the area, not just to try to read a piece of paper and lead a class.

Observatory: How do you find your trainers, or how do you select them?

Shane N.: It’s generally kind of the word of mouth within the shops. For new stores I have to go out and advertise looking for people who have that expertise.

Observatory: Do you have an idea of how much does it cost to open a TechShop?

Shane N.: Generally, I mean these shops are about $2 million dollars including building, materials and equipment.

Observatory: How do you decide the location of a new TechShop?

Shane N.: Typically through partner with a major investor, like this location is partnered with Lowe’s. It’s an experiment for the nation, for Lowe’s, to see if there is a good symbiotic relationship. Some of the other stores we have a store on the campus in Arizona ASU. We’ve got this partnership with Ford. We have a partnership with DARPA. Basically, if somebody is interested in TechShop, there is a fee that they are going to pay to do an experiment, or an analysis of the location and the area, and see if it’s feasible to open up a TechShop. And then from there, we need to have the partnership funding that goes into building that location. Right now, all of the stores are basically partnership base. That’s also part of the investor analysis when they’re opening up a store, is to determine what the risk and reward is on that market share.

Observatory: Do you know how this partnership with ASU has worked?

Shane N.: Very well. It’s been very successful for them, and they’re actually looking for continually expanding the integration of TechShop into the university.

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Observatory: What’s the time when the TechShop is busier?

Shane N.: We got the business people and they’re going to tend to use it more in the daytime. And then we got the person who works all day. And then in the evening, he’s ready to come in and take classes, or work on their projects. The overlap tends to happen in the late afternoons of 5 o’clock to 7:30 or 8:00, is when we also offer most of the classes. We survey our people every day as to when the best time is for them to class, when they’d like to see classes, when aspect, we find out what works in the classroom, the class aspect. That’s when a lot of the people are coming in to do the work. Otherwise, you just-- we see fluctuations depending on which day it is. What has the average-- how busy it is, just kind of varies from day to day, like Saturday typically is a lot busier than a Sunday. Most of these stores are located in downtown areas, where people don’t have access to space to work on their projects, or necessarily to have tools.

Observatory: Do you have TechShops in other countries besides the United States?

Shane N.: Not yet.

Observatory: Will you be interested on doing something in Mexico, in a Mexican university?

Shane N.: Always. Anywhere, yes. TechShop is open to partnering with anybody who’s like-minded. And we feel we can provide a service to, and who wants to work on expanding the Maker Movement as well. Absolutely.

Observatory: Do you organize some events for networking, and making more makers know what all the people are doing? Where do you organize them?

Shane N.: We have events all the time with anybody who is interested in using the space for public meet up. If they want to have a meeting that’s open to the general public on topics, then we offer our space for those types of events. Because it brings in new people. It informs our membership as well as to what’s occurring. It creates dialogue. We do activities open to the public at different times as well. We promote the shop every quarter, so we have an open house to invite all the public in, and see what we’re doing. Like I said, anybody who wants to host an event that’s maker related. If they’re doing it to make money, then we will rent out areas for them to do that as well. But we have meet ups, public meetups multiple times every week through the shop.  


References:
TechShop web site: http://www.techshop.ws Imagery: Kane, E. (2015, february 27).

Inventors Club every Friday morning at TechShop Chandler. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ eileenmkane/16497601148/ Krejci, K. (2013, junuary 21).

TechShop. Retrieved from: https://goo.gl/9TAUgu Techshop (2016). About TechShop, Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.techshop. ws/TheMakerMovementManifesto.html Vacher, S. (2011, june 11).