Innovation Station

A new ‘invention’ shop in Dearborn offers an on-ramp to the global marketplace.

The Motor City has been challenged economically over the last decade, but what the city and region have never had a shortage of is inventors. For more than a century, Detroit has been powered by its innovative spirit — from automobiles and assembly lines to medical devices and computer games.

To carry on that pioneering determination, TechShop, a member-based DIY fabrication studio set to open in mid-November in Dearborn, will offer inventors, tinkerers, and roboteers access to industrial-grade design machinery and software. “TechShop gives people an opportunity to literally pursue their dream, with the toolset to make it a reality,” says Mark Hatch, TechShop’s CEO. “Come in, come up with a great idea, and get something going.”

The 40,000-square-foot facility, to be called the Motor City Innovation Exchange, will be outfitted with welding stations, milling machines, hand tools, lathes, laser-cutters, 3-D printers, and dozens of other inventor-friendly equipment. In addition to offering raw design space and machinery for a monthly fee of $100, TechShop will provide business and training classes led by “Dream Coaches,” as well as facilitating licensing and business development services through a partnership with Ford Motor Co.

“(Detroit has) a high unemployment rate, with hundreds of thousands of trained engineers and skilled craftspeople who have no access to these kinds of tools,” Hatch says. “We have all that pent-up knowledge, information, and experience — and no cost-effective means to leverage it.”

That’s where TechShop comes in. Since its inception in 2006, TechShop has opened locations in North Carolina (Raleigh) and California (San Jose, San Francisco, Menlo Park). Already, some 2,000 members have developed circuit boards, infrared heaters, advanced gauges, robots, and even a personal jetpack.

“These tools have been buried inside of R&D departments, universities, large corporations, and the government (since the Industrial Revolution),” Hatch says. “This is the first time in human history that they’ve now become accessible to the common man, and for the cost of a daily latte.”

Through the use of design tools and other equipment, Hatch estimates people can produce prototypes for a tenth of what it would cost to buy the equipment separately — let alone pay for the training.

“My suspicion is that we’re going to unleash a phenomenal wave of amazing innovations that have been buried in peoples’ heads and in their garages over the last couple of decades,” Hatch says. db