ACROSS THE Commonwealth, inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs use makerspaces, co-working spaces, and incubators to execute on their latest ideas. There are over 75 of these communal workspaces in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities, and that number is growing. These are the access points and convening spots of the innovation economy outside of Boston.
As you enter Groundwork!, a co-working space in New Bedford, you are struck by the soaring ceilings and the sketches decorating the walls. The space seems like an extension of New Bedford’s now-vibrant downtown. That vibrancy extends to the buzz of activity in the room, as artists and entrepreneurs share ideas and support each other.
Beyond a daily workspace, Groundwork! is also an epicenter for New Bedford’s entrepreneurship and creative community. They host the regional chapter of Entrepreneurship for All, a start-up accelerator that supports businesses in the early phases of development and launch. Groundwork! members are a mix of business owners, artists, and designers, and the space is a hub of activity for the community of innovators and creatives in New Bedford.
The founders, local artist Dena Haden and digital marketer Sarah Athanas, see their own collaboration and creativity reflected in the space.
“At Groundwork! we have software engineers, shoe designers, data scientists, non-profits, and others all working under the same roof. This leads to some really interesting conversations at the kitchen counter,” Sarah explains. “You don’t have to spend much time here to get the sense that people are really pulling for each other and for New Bedford.”
Drive 90 miles north to the Lowell Makes workshop, and you will find that founder John Noto has taken a different approach. Lowell Makes is broken down into separate spaces that nearly 100 members rent for personal projects, making everything from furniture to costumes. As you descend the staircase into the basement workshop, you leave behind a classroom, conference room, and retail shop and enter the world of organized chaos that is an active maker community, where ideas are literally being hammered out, sculpted, and printed in 3D.
In Worcester, Technocopia is fueled by robotics graduates from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, artists groups, and STEM education specialists. Located on an upper floor in the Davis Printer’s Building, looking over the streets of Worcester and its burgeoning restaurant scene. The space houses a digital fabrication shop, a metal shop, and a woodshop; the collection of tools includes a largescale laser cutter, CNC router for cutting intricate designs, a vinyl cutter, and multiple 3D printers that are all buzzing in the background.
The din of this high tech equipment is often drowned out by the voices of children excited by hands-on learning at their youth STEM education program hosted by Technocopia through a partnership with Worcester Think Tank. Technocopia uses the makerspace to provide youth programming in science, technology, and the arts side by side with the inspiring work of the WPI graduates.
On the second story of an old mill building in Holyoke, you will find Brick Coworkshop. Concrete artists, glass workers, and painters are scattered throughout the space, taking up most of the floor of the building. The mill building allows them to create pieces, and the artists who work here say that being around other working artists is a creative inspiration.
Founders Mike Stone and Aaron Cantrell converged on Holyoke due to a right-place-right-time confluence of 10 artists, designers, and fabricators. “We all had connections to the area in some way,” Mike explains. “And the wealth of physical space that Holyoke offers was an appealing draw. Once we began to settle in, we learned more about the social, cultural, and artistic activity already ongoing in the city, which only increased our conviction to share what we do with our neighbors.”
Traveling the Commonwealth, it is clear that people, particularly millennials, want to live in cities that allow them to pursue their ventures in digital innovation, arts, electronics, or any other number of creative careers. Makerspaces provide the physical and cognitive room for new enterprises and passions to take root. The sheer scale and availability of space in the Gateway cities is a boon in itself – we have massive, inexpensive buildings ready to be given a second life as collaborative workspaces.
This is the reasoning behind the creation of the Collaborative Workspace Program, a single point of entry for community-based organizations, located in both Gateway Cities and non-Gateways, seeking funding to advance locally-based innovation and entrepreneurship. The first round of Collaborative Workspace Program grants awarded more than $950,000 in grant funding to 23 organizations: 10 fit-out grants to develop and expand shared workspaces, including innovation centers, incubators, artist spaces, collaborative kitchens, and co-work spaces; and seed grants to fund planning efforts and build the capacity of 13 additional collaborative workspaces. This year, the second round for $2.1 million will again be used to support collaborative spaces across the state.
Our Gateway Cities have adapted the blank slate of a flexible, shared workspace to fit their community’s needs. As we consider how innovation is important to the economic future of our state, it is not only important to focus on “where” but also “what” and “who.” What does innovation look like as part of our communities across the state? How do individuals from all backgrounds participate in our world-leading innovation economy? We believe that these collaborative maker spaces are part of the answer.