Zoe Clements has always been creative. In her teens, she made mohair teddy bears. In her 20’s, she invented an electrical plug for arthritis sufferers. And in her 30’s, she developed typing software to help kids learn how to touch-type.
But when Clements moved to Newmarket from the U.K. six years ago, she had to press the pause button on some of her creative ideas. She hadn’t brought her special equipment with her (because of its incompatible voltage) and she didn’t have the funds to buy new equipment. She was frustrated.
Then she heard about NewMakeIt.
NewMakeIt is a shared technology studio for innovators that acts as a hub for bringing together entrepreneurs, tinkerers, artists and other creative minds. Housed in a 7,300-square-foot facility, the makerspace is York Region’s latest response to the global “Maker Movement” of innovators who are harnessing technology to create new products and services.
Upstairs at NewMakeIt, makers can develop their ideas in an open-concept office (the “co-working space”), which includes a high-end 3-D printer, a laser cutter, desks and meeting rooms; as well as a communal kitchen, lounge and a huge chalkboard wall. They can also take workshops in everything from 3-D scanning and printing to business administration and shop safety. Downstairs (in the “makerspace”) is a workshop that includes a CNC router (a computer-controlled cutting machine), a CNC mill (for metalworking) and woodworking tools.
Clements was one of the first to join NewMakeIt. “All of a sudden, I had access to large, expensive pieces of equipment and tools,” she says. Not only could she now produce custom items for her small business (Qwertynomics, which teaches touch-typing skills), but she could also focus on Zen Creations, a giftware micro-business she’d launched with her 13-year-old daughter and her cousin. “At the moment, we specialize in laser-cut cutting boards for the kitchen,” says Clements. “We’re also doing signs and some acrylic jewellery and key chains.”
Rapid, Affordable Prototyping
Justin Brown is another entrepreneur who is bringing ideas to life at NewMakeIt. Brown owns JubeDesign and has partnered with the Lewis Family Tattoo Company in Toronto to develop a lighter-weight tattoo machine that helps prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, an occupational hazard for tattoo artists.
To make prototypes of the ergonomic machine, Brown had a few options. He could have hired a machine shop to produce the samples but, he says, “It’s insane just how much money you can spend.” Alternatively, he and his partners could have set up their own tooling shop — a $50,000 investment — but it made more economic sense to render the prototypes—and as many versions as they needed—in a makerspace. Brown researched makerspaces in Toronto, where he lives, but chose to commute to NewMakeIt because of its large size, its support of commercial ventures and its sophisticated equipment.
Like Brown, Marius Slavescu is impressed by NewMakeIt’s cool tools, but he’s also sold on its convenience factor. “It’s a 20-minute drive for me,” says Slavescu, a computer programmer and software developer who has designed a robotics kit for kids.
Recently, he spent a few weeks developing the kit’s prototype using the laser cutter at NewMakeIt. The space is open late, which meant that Slavescu could fit in three or four hours at NewMakeItafter his 9-to-5 job. It made for long days but, he says, “There are all kinds of interesting people there. It’s a great place to collaborate with other makers and creative people.”
For Slavescu and Brown, joining NewMakeIt has opened other doors. Slavescu has led an evening series of robotics workshops for kids there. And Brown, through connections at NewMakeIt, has tapped into funding through BDC (the Business Development Bank of Canada) and landed three contracts.
As for Clements, she often uses NewMakeIt’s co-working space for meetings and training sessions. “Sometimes,I’ll just go and work there,” she says. “When you run your own business, having your own office is great,” she says, adding that you also need a place where you can collaborate and share ideas. “That community space is very important to me.”
Supporting Grassroots Innovation
NewMakeIt’s Director, Derrol Salmon founded the facility with three partners. “NewMakeIt is all about supporting grassroots innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in a fun and stimulating environment,” he says. “There was a clear demand for this kind of space north of Toronto.” A not-for-profit, NewMakeIt opened in February 2016, after receiving seed funding from the Government of Ontario, York Region and the Town of Newmarket.
NewMakeIt is largely membership-based. Users can choose from a variety of monthly, quarterly and annual memberships. The “Maker Pro” membership, for example, provides priority access to all of NewMakeIt’s equipment seven days a week and costs $715 a year.
That’s about the cost of a coffee a day. For innovators and creators eager to turn their dreams into reality, that’s a small price to pay.
About the Author:
Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.