In honor of Manufacturing Day, which celebrates the importance of manufacturing in this country, NationSwell spoke with Mark Hatch, co-founder of TechShop, a nationwide organization that gives its members access to machines, tools, software and other professional equipment to create their own building projects.
The following is an edited version of the email interview.
What motivated you to start TechShop?
[My co-founder] Jim Newton started TechShop with the simple dream of providing people who like to make things a place to go with all the tools they could never buy and where likeminded creative makers could help one another build their dreams.
What will success look like for TechShop?
Recently, a partner conducted a study of our member projects and found that over 30 percent of them were focused on making the world a better place in some way. That’s over 2,000 people building their dreams of a better world. Success is when we have hundreds of thousands or millions of people doing the same thing.
How does your background as a veteran shape the way TechShop works to ensure that veterans have access to these tools and services?
As a veteran who served with a Green Beret “A” team, I have a personal connection to the vets that are using our space. Our veterans program was the brainchild of a collaboration between us, the Department of Veterans Affairs, GE and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense). This engagement paid for 1,500 vets to have access to TechShop annually for two years and helped us fund both the Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. locations. We have already begun to see vets use this benefit to launch their own companies and land better jobs.
Does TechShop attract a specific type of person? And are they looking to learn new skills to get back to work?
We have people from all backgrounds, but my favorite “bootstrap” story is of Marc Roth. At the time, Marc was homeless, and he used his last $50 to buy a new member special and training class that TechShop was running. He leveraged one class on the laser cutter to get himself back on his feet.
Why does TechShop need to exist?
Well, for example, the Bay Area TechShops, through its members, have created billions of dollars in sales, thousands of jobs and changed the world positively in small and large ways — from a baby incubation blanket that has already saved 87,000 babies’ lives to people who have accidentally started businesses after making something for themselves and then finding a market, to others who have completely remade their careers through discovering their inner maker.
Finally, why is the maker movement important for our country?
It taps into the natural human need to make things. The TechShop platform, which leverages software progress, hardware automation and easy-to-use tools, re-introduces our members to the creative person that lives in each of us. And it is through making things that we learn how to better manage the resources the earth provides.