Jim McKelvey has come to the rescue of the St. Louis maker movement.
Today, the serial entrepreneur officially opened MADE, a 32,000-square-foot building at 5127 Delmar Blvd., with tools and machines for makers, artists, designers and entrepreneurs.
It was exactly one year ago when the maker community was stunned with the announcement that Tech Shop, which was located in the Cortex Innovation District, was closing. The national chain of do-it-yourself workshops had 10 locations, including St. Louis. It filed for bankruptcy and closed all locations immediately, leaving many artists and makers out in the cold, just weeks before the holiday season.
“Many of the people who made things at the Tech Shop had online businesses,” said Dennis Lower, Cortex president and CEO. “They had orders to complete and products to finish.”
When Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, heard the Tech Shop news, he vowed to save the machines, tools and workspace for St. Louis makers.
With the help of Doug Auer, his partner in the Third Degree Glass Factory and Lower at Cortex, McKelvey put together a team within 48 hours to help artisans shut out of the Tech Shop fill their holiday orders.
Under McKelvey’s leadership, the group found a location for a makerspace in the Academy neighborhood on the north side of Delmar. The building was re-habbed and reconfigured for the wide open workspaces. McKelvey said the work was completed with private donations and without money from St. Louis city government.
McKelvey told the gathering at the ribbon cutting ceremony today that he had created the prototype for Square’s mobile payment plug-in device at a Tech Shop in San Francisco.
He said access to the expensive hardware, software, tools and machines are essential for inventing and creating new products.
“It's so joyous to come in to a space and actually play and even make mistakes,” McKelvey said. “I want to invite St. Louis to come here and play and have the fun that I've had. This is what originally drew me to glass blowing and it's what I think will transform this city into a community of sort of happy people who are making awesome stuff. And now we've got the facility to do it.”
McKelvey’s Third Degree Glass Factory, which opened on Delmar 16 years ago, is located across the street from the MADE building.
“We expect this area of Delmar to become a maker community and a genius cluster for St. Louis,” McKelvey said.
Chad Stuemke showed off table saws and equipment in the woodshop area of MADE. He’s one of many volunteers who pitched in to help set up the workspace.
“A place like this gives someone like me, who doesn’t have access to thousands or millions of dollars worth of equipment, to do much bigger projects than I can do in my basement.”
Stuemke was a regular at the now-defunct Tech Shop. He is a Boy Scout leader and had scheduled a troupe of 20 scouts to work on a merit badge project at Tech Shop on the day it closed. He said there is already a good feeling of community in the new MADE space.
MADE will offer classes and workshops for everything from sewing and 3D printing to woodworking and welding. Memberships will cost $50 a month and use of individual machines will range in price from $3 to $10 an hour.
Next summer, the Magic House will open a satellite location on the top floor of MADE and offer STEAM classes for children.
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