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Friday, August 29, 2014

MakeWorks brings innovation to former shoe factory on College St.

makeworksMakeWorks is a co-working office, a maker space, a startup incubator, and an events spot all in one. Simply put, according to founder Mike Stern, the 10,000 square foot space at College and Dufferin is a "shared R&D lab" for new startups and businesses of all kinds.

"We have a focus, which is startups doing non-traditional startup things," Stern says. "Instead of just software developers crowded around, we have this bigger facility where people are doing more physical things." The space is the perfect spot for digital and physical technology and innovation to collide; in addition to providing office space for startups, they also offer facilities for 3D printing, electronics work, laser-cutting, metalsmithing, ceramics, woodworking, and more.

makeworks torontoNecessity was, as usual, the mother of invention; Stern wanted to start a company that worked in both creating software and building hardware, but couldn't find a co-working space that fit his needs. started a software and hardware developing company. "Then I found this space" - a converted shoe factory - "and I found a few other companies, and they were already aligned in needing that kind of space. So, we just built it."

makeworks torontoThe front of the building is a month-to-month co-working area, fully outfitted with desks, WiFi, and some comfy leather office chairs. There are no cubicles, but that adds to the climate of cross-pollination between diverse startups and businesses. "By just being physically close to one another, you end up getting a lot of serendipitous moments," Stern says. (For example, a 3D scanning outfit and a real estate firm have been talking about creating virtual 3D walkthroughs of their properties.)

makeworks torontoCurrent tenants include Sensimat, who created a mat that helps wheelchair users track and vary seat pressure, Pawly, an app that lets pet owners interact with their dogs while away from home, and Sprout Guerrilla, who produce artwork and coasters coated in live, growing moss. Indiegogo Canada also recently moved into the space, which has made for an invaluable boost to startups looking for crowdfunding help: "They're a tap on the shoulder away if you need help with your campaign," Stern says.

makeworks torontoAcross the way is the MakeLab, the space's electronics and prototyping lab, which includes an array of 3D printers (available for rental), a laser cutter, and some electronics equipment acquired when RIM was downsizing. It's open to all members to use, and workshops and training are part of the space's programming. (Other knick-knacks lying around the lab: A fully-articulated 3D-printed scorpion toy, a doorbell that looks like HAL 9000, and a vending machine retrofitted to stock tools and materials for the electronics lab.)

makeworks toronto"There's really cool integration with people who have no hardware side of their business," adds Teddy Shropshire, the space's manager. Orchard, a startup that facilitates buying and selling used phones, have begun making laser-cut custom cases, just because they have access to the lab. "It's not really part of their business plan - it's just something that, because they have access to these tools, it gives them something a little more personal about their product."

makeworks torontoIf you're not looking to launch a startup anytime soon, but still want to learn how to 3D print, never fear - MakeWorks just began offering public workshops, and they've launched a crowdfunding campaign of their own to get those workshops off the ground. "People can come and take a 3D printing workshop, or a laser cutting workshop, or arduino-building, or drone-building," Stern says. "There's such a brain trust here, and we basically use the people that are in here and say 'Do you want to do a workshop on something?'"

makeworks torontoThat brain trust includes The Shop, a maker-space located at the back of the MakeWorks complex, where members and visitors can get hands-on with woodworking, ceramics, and metal (read more about them here). Workshops have been a big draw to the space - when I arrive, the room is set up for weaving class.

makeworks torontoThere's also a wide-open space used for events and as a gallery - though, given the demand for room at MakeWorks, it may not be kept open forever. Just a few short months after opening, though, a few companies have already "graduated" out of the office, including Brainsights and

makeworks toronto"Traditional co-working spaces would, like, want to just keep their same membership forever," Stern says. "The more people that graduate, the more people will be like 'Oh, that company started at MakeWorks, so we want to start at MakeWorks'. It's a self-fulfilling thing."

makeworks torontoPhotos by James C. Lee.

by Natalia Manzocco via blogTO

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