Nashua’s MakeItLabs part of tech wave

When Adam Shrey, of Nashua’s MakeIt Labs, was invited to an invitation-only conference in Washington in August, he was sure to tell them he could make it.

Shrey, who heads the Gate City’s downtown maker space, was invited by the Office of Science Technology Policy on behalf of the White House to attend the A Nation of Makers conference, designed to plug federal officials in to representatives from maker spaces from around the country.

The informal spaces, packed with tools, technology and like-minded creatives, are growing around the country. They take various forms, from small gatherings to share ideas to full-bore labs and shops complete with 3-D printers, computer-aided milling machines, wood shops and coding space. The resulting projects cover the spectrum of anyone’s imagination.

The Washington conference was a signal to the country’s tech innovators that the government thinks they may be onto something; and something big.

"They see the same sort of potential that we do for it," Shrey said in the MakeIt Labs space on Crown Street in Nashua.

The event on Aug. 24 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building featured the familiar conference format of presentations and breakout sessions, but the result left a clear message from administration officials that garage tinkerers are being taken seriously.

"When we started, most people didn’t even know what a make space was. Now the office of the president is having a meeting of everybody. They’re obviously aware of it," Shrey said.

"You guys and gals and people are on the cutting edge of something that’s a really big deal," said Mark Walsh, the director of the Small Business Administration’s Investment and Innovation division who spoke at the conference.

Walsh, now a federal official but at one time part of America Online and other large corporations, said those people in the "walled gardens of massive corporations" who think their "products, services and processes are protected are facing a wakeup call."

"The faces I’m looking at today are making a huge impact now and an even larger impact in the future in pretty much every single sector of what it means to be a citizen not only of this nation but of all nations," he added.

Shrey said the "conference itself was very cool," but the "greatest thing to come of it is a big spark," which comes at a time of growth not only in the maker movement in general, but specifically for Nashua’s own maker community.

The group, which rents a former manufacturing building on Crown Street, is moving to phase two of its recent surge in development as they begin taking applications for tech incubator space in one wing of their building.

The main portion of the building is sectioned off into actual hands-on creative space. The adjacent portion will have a different focus. Offices and cubicles are being prepared with the hopes that they’ll soon be populated with burgeoning tech business leaders.

"We’re looking more to actually find people who want to start that business and haven’t done it yet and help them, give them space and amenities to get them there without putting out a giant financial risk to themselves," he said.

Shrey describes the area as "quiet space," designed for activities appropriate for an office building.

"They’re not running a CNC machine in there," said Shrey while sitting in the main workshop area. "People come out here to be social and work at the same time. whereas if you really need to concentrate on something and don’t want to be bothered, that’s kind of the library space."

Reflecting on the summer meeting in DC, Shrey said the both old, established spaces and new ones in attendance were "blown away that we were invited there for this meeting," he said.

The result has been "a ton of chatter and planning" that has happened since then.

At the conference, SBA director Walsh acknowledged the daunting task of navigating the federal bureaucracy, but encouraged the makers attending to "make the United States Government pay attention to every single thing that every one of you do every single day."

Shrey said, "For the people here, it’s great, because it gives us a lot more resources to take things to the next level."

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590, dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DonH.