Raffie Colet Discusses Exciting Possibilities at TechShop
Interview with Raffie Colet, TechShop General Manager Mid-Peninsula and TechShop San Jose
Raffie Colet is not just the General Manager of TechShop, but the engine that drives the creativity process through various aspiring innovators, builders and students that walk into the facilities.
TechShop is not your ordinary playground but an environment of future and change. Having eight locations in the U.S, with two pending in the near future, TechShop is the premiere membership workshop to manufacture your creative dreams. Each facility includes laser cutters, plastics and electronics labs, a machine shop, a wood shop, a metal working shop, a textiles department, welding stations and a waterjet cutter.
Could you give a brief overview of what TechShop is and what the goals are?
TechShop is a membership-based, do-it-yourself workshop and fabrication studio with locations nationwide; our goals are to power and enable people to build their dreams. We provide facilities, education and support to our members so that when they have an idea, they don’t have to know how to make that idea, they don’t have to have the skills or equipment necessary to produce that idea into something physical. Members can come to TechShop, and we can teach you how by giving you access to make the project.
What are your current, 5 and 10 year goals?
At TechShop Mid-Peninsula and San Jose, our goals are to continue to expand our capabilities and ability to help more members. Specifically for us to change/expand our offerings of STEM education.
As a whole, TechShop CEO Mark Hatch told us the long term plan is to be in every major city in the US and then every major city in the world. In 2014, TechShop made the Inc. 5,000 list with a 78% compounded annual growth rate. As for TechShop’s IPO plans, each TechShop location is very expensive, so moving toward public markets, private equity funds or large private placements are the logical places to fund TechShop’s financial needs.
What types of machines, tools and software do you offer at the San Jose and Mid-Peninsula locations?
We’re pretty consistent throughout all the TechShop locations. We have all the Autodesk design software, so pretty much everything you need to design in 2D and 3D; we offer a basic programing software, as well as Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw which are very commonly used design software by graphic designers. On the hardware side, as far as equipment we have complete metal and wood shops and a plastics lab including 3D printing capabilities. That includes CAC machines (full computer control machines), a full textile area including equipment from a basic sewing machine to an industrial machine to a computer controlled sewing machine as well. Our electronic lab is pretty substantial with some of the newest equipment from National Instruments which is very exciting. We also carry the basics such as hand tools and power tools. In addition we have a really awesome micropair workstation, it includes all the specialty tools to work on or build a bicycle. What we like to tell people is that at TechShop you can make almost anything and we will provide what you need to do it.
With the array of different machinery, what are the tools you see people getting most excited about?
Overall, people get really excited about CNC (Computer Numerical Control) tools, along with lasers and of course 3D printing, since it is a big buzzword right now. But as people get into the space it really becomes everything. They might be attracted by 3D printing since it’s a hot topic and it piques people’s interest, but once you come into a TechShop all of a sudden you see something and it’s like “oh I can do that and look at what that person’s doing.” I think it levels out and everything in the shop becomes the thing they’re most excited about.
What are the types of classes and workshops do you offer to your members?
We offer all of the basics, everything from not knowing how to draw in 2D basic classes to how to use Illustrator. We teach all the software classes for design. We teach software classes on how to convert those designs into machine code so that you can run them on a machine, and of course, we teach basic safety on how to run the equipment. So I want to be able to use a laser cutter, and all of our workshops are about 2-3 hours long. So the idea is that TechShop allows the member to choose what classes I want don’t have to take them all. So if you come in with an idea, you know the classes you have to take to build your idea. I can take a 2 hour class on the laser cutter and reserve that equipment the same day practically and start using it. The classes teach the basics to get started. That’s one of the key empowering things, “I get to use this equipment right away, get started on my project, and that’s how you learn and get better – by actually using it.” One of the keys to that in the TechShop community is that once you taken a class and passed it you’re not alone, you have support. So once you come back to use that, after a 2-3 hour class you’re not an expert on that piece of equipment but you have enough to get started and work safely without concern for yourself or others. But we have staff on hand at all times to consult with in addition to the community of members, and these are people that have learned just like you and gotten off the ground to give you perspective. They could be someone who learned at our shop or has been using the equipment for 20 or 30 years and can give you incredible insights on projects and how to approach things. So it’s really awesome when you see this in action because it is so unlike a typical experience you may have when you try to learn something. It’s really the support of the staff and community that help make this really successful.
What types of events do you offer at TechShop?
We supply corporate and team-building events for various companies and corporations. Last night we did a sumo-bot robot building event. Basically companies (such as Facebook and Google) come pretty much on a weekly basis. In a 4 hour period they will build a robot kit; build it, assemble it, program it and then weaponize the robot. At the end of the 4 hours there is a battle tournament, and it’s an awesome environment because you have to collaborate and hack these machines. They have such a limited amount of time, and then they go through this tournament to see whose robot will win and it’s a lot of fun.
In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting projects to come off of the Mid-Peninsula or San Jose TechShop floor?
One of the key goals of TechShop is to make people successful. I can give several examples in my shop that I’ve seen, working on ideas and coming from a long history of manufacturing and design and engineering. It’s not only the time that they are able to get it done so quickly, that they have to spend so little, but the quality that they produce is so high. I get really excited, “it’s like, WOAH! How did you do that?”
An example of an exciting project is DODOcase, which was done at the San Francisco TechShop. They were able to not only produce a quality iPad case, very quickly, but in the first 90 days while they were developing the product they had over $1 million in sales. One of my favorites out of San Jose is a company called Boosted Boards. 3 guys decided they wanted to make a better electric skateboard, really cool, really fast (up to 22 mph on the Boosted Dual+ model), and lightweight (it was the lightest electric skateboard at the time it came out). They made it on their own, at the shop. Myself, other staff and other members were able to test ride it for them and give feedback. Over the summer we helped them fine-tune their design and decide on the control unit they were going to use. They went on Kickstarter a couple years ago, and they raised $600,000 in one week. They came to me and told me they were moving out because they had their own facility and equipment that was available at TechShop to launch their company. They also had a really awesome TED Talk about changing the way we commute to work. They’ve had great success with over 3,000 units sold in the first year I believe.
There are tons of stories similar to these. We sponsored a group of San Jose State engineering seniors because they had such an awesome idea. We actually found them on Kickstarter trying to raise enough money to finish their senior project, and part of the funds they were raising was to pay for TechShop membership. I found out about it and I decided to sponsor them so that they did not have to pay. These 4 students were called the Incredible HLQ (incredible hulk), who built a heavy-lift quadcopter that’s capable of carrying a 50 lb. payload for emergency and disaster relief. They designed, built and open-shared the design for the quadcopter that can be produced for $10-15,000 per unit that can pick up a package for people who are flood or other disaster victims, where they can’t quite be rescued but need food, water and other supplies for a day or so until they can be rescued. It’s just incredible that they were able to prove and do this and show people that you don’t have to have a multi-million dollar military-class drone in order to save people’s lives with equipment like this. They’ve shown and proved that we can build something for thousands of dollars and do the same thing.
The commercial advantage from people in business to people just having an idea and trying to make the world a better place, we’re able to empower them and make it real. Without TechShop, the cost for all these projects to get off the ground would have been much higher. I always tell people that one of the things about TechShop is that I speak to groups and I say, “How many of you have had an idea?” and of course everybody’s hands go up. Then I’ll say, “How many of you have had an idea that you thought would change the world, I’m going to make a billion dollars, and I’m going to make life so much easier if I had this thing?” Most people have this idea and do nothing with it. Why do they do nothing? Because “I’m not an engineer or I don’t have a place to go to work on this project or I don’t have the money to get started. I’m not a business person and I don’t know how to write a business plan to get $200,000 to start the project. So people will not try these awesome ideas, and I feel our goal is to break down those barriers; we want to make it easy. If we could get every single person in the world to try just one of their ideas, we could change the world. There are so many ideas that don’t get tried. On the flip side, maybe they get to try their ideas and maybe they weren’t as good as they thought, what’s the worst that happened? “I paid $65 for a laser cutting class and I learned to laser cut. I tried to make my idea and it wasn’t that great.” But you tried it and learned. Maybe after that you’re done, or it motivates you to try the next idea. There is no negative about it, it’s all positive. That is one of the key aspects of TechShop and what it’s all about.
What are some of the partners that you work with?
Some notable partners include:
ASU Chandler Innovation Center: TechShop Chandler located in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center; partnership with ASU Chandler is TechShop’s first academic partnership.
Autodesk: Partnership with TechShop to offer members access to cutting-edge software and training.
Intel: Intel and TechShop will collaborate on a series of workshops to provide members with hands-on access to Intel technology.
NI: NI will provide product training and outfit two TechShop electronics labs with NI technology.
Lowe’s: Partnership and co-location with Lowe’s to bring TechShop to Austin-Round Rock.
DARPA & VACI: Partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation (VACI) to bring TechShop to Washington, DC and Pittsburgh.
GE & VACI: Partnership with VACI and General Electric (GE) to offer veterans a limited number of free one-year memberships and $350 worth of training.
Ford Motor Company: Partnership with Ford Motor Company to bring TechShop to Detroit.
The REEF: Partnership with THE REEF to bring TechShop to Los Angeles.
Fujitsu: Partnership with Fujitsu to launch “TechShop Inside! — Powered by Fujitsu,” a mobile makerspace for students of all ages. This 24-foot trailer is equipped with TechShop’s most popular building and prototyping technologies (3D printers, laser cutters, tablet PCs), and will travel to various locations around the US.