A small, darkened room on Geekdom’s seventh floor is filled with donated hardware.
High-tech equipment such as 3D printers, laser etchers, and tiny Raspberry Pi computers to learn programming are all available to Geekdom members for free use in the new innovation maker space that official debuts Wednesday. Other resources include an Arduino open-source electronic prototyping platform on which users can create interactive electronic objects, a full enterprise computer server cluster, and computer work stations with pre-installed software.
Entrepreneur Drue Placette founded Do Lab, a community innovation and maker space lab full of equipment he has accumulated over the years to provide technology resources for those starting out nascent businesses. Co-founders Al Hopper and Dale Bracey bring their respective technical expertise to help manage use of the creative engineering space.
At the launch event, the CyberDef Dojo will be the first group to demonstrate how the Do Lab’s server clusters could serve as a real-world environment for cyber hackathons. The local meetup, organized by Omar Quimbaya, Jeff Reich, Rob Dodson, and Stephen Johns, provides hackers the opportunity to hone their skills in cyber security. Once organizers notified members of the opportunity to try some of the Do Lab’s resources, responses to attend Wednesday night’s Do Lab launch quickly outstripped the Geekdom Event Centre’s maximum capacity.
Starting this fall, Geekdom also will begin remodeling the basement level of the Rand Building in order to accommodate not only the growing community – 1,600 members and counting – but to provide members with other tools and resources to launch and grow startup businesses.
The new basement level will feature a community podcast studio with state-of-the-art equipment for Geekdom members to use in content development, broadcasting, and a variety of recordings. There will also be a cantina and more member space, as well as two classrooms that each can seat up to 25 members for workshops or special events.
The new basement space – all 8,271 square feet – as well as the 288 sq. ft.-Do Lab represent an evolution in the ecosystem as represented by Geekdom’s growing community of innovators.
“The time has come for the expansion to continue at Geekdom, which means more innovators, more collaborators, more entrepreneurs, more builders – all in the heart of downtown San Antonio in the Tech District,” said Geekdom Chief of Operations David Garcia Jr.
“We need a strong, maturing community of startups to continue the growth of our ecosystem,” added Dax Moreno, director of Geekdom programs. “These new studio spaces will be a great tool to help our members reach the next level in their businesses.”
Both the studio space and the Do Lab can help Geekdom members who want to learn new skills for a job, whether it’s broadcasting, studio production, creating web apps, developing software, or producing a device prototype. To be competitive in emerging job markets, job applicants often need hands-on experience working with specific systems, software, and server clusters. Placette founded the Do Lab to provide those opportunities for Geekdom members who may not have access to institutional innovation facilities.
“If you look at large institutions like UTSA or USAA, you’ll find innovation labs, where employees can test ideas, expand their skills, and work on taking new products to market,” Placette said. “With this new lab, Geekdom members can have access to tools and equipment they might not otherwise have, such as drones, Microsoft Hololens [the first self-contained, holographic computer which allows users to interact with holograms], and other new technologies.”
One side of the seventh floor Do Lab facility is set up like a classroom and provides the space and equipment for workshops, training sessions, and podcasts. One of its supporters is founder of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT) David Monroe, who amassed the large museum collection, including early computing machines and first-generation inventions.
“David loaned me equipment to showcase what the maker space could be when I set up the demo spaces,” Placette said. “The tech workbenches we have in the space are his, originals from his company DataPoint.”
Monroe worked at Datapoint, an early San Antonio technology company that created some of the world’s first computer terminals.
By applying here Geekdom members can access the space and test out ideas on equipment. Placette expects members to test mobile apps, print prototypes on 3D printers, design devices on electronic work stations, even simulate enterprise environments for hackathons.
The space will also feature “repair cafés,” or social community events where users can bring in broken technology products and learn how to fix them.
Luke Owen, founder of Lockaway Full Service, already used the Do Lab’s equipment to create vinyl labels for a customized locking bin prototype. What would have cost hundreds of dollars to outsource, he did in one day and for free.
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“One of our staff [members] learned how to use the equipment to print customized branding for our bins,” Owen said. “We now all know how to use this equipment and are planning to return to the Do Lab to create custom vinyl printing materials for launching our products at ten locations across San Antonio.”
The more in-house elements startup staff can produce, the more capital is available to grow the business, which in turn helps drive the engine for the local tech ecosystem.
“Our long-range dream is to see places like EPICenter, SAMSAT, and 10BitWorks grow their presence in San Antonio,” Placette said. “Resources like these, as well as the ‘repair café’ meetups we’re planning for the Do Lab are open to everyone.”