MOUNT VERNON — Knox Labs Inc., president Nick Clark announced Friday the organization’s success in landing a substantial planning grant from the US Dept. of Agriculture to pay for developing a strategic plan and business concept for a “makerspace” to occupy the main floor of the former JC Penney building at 104 S. Main St., in downtown Mount Vernon.
Clark was part of the Knox Labs board that successfully wrote an application to the USDA seeking $81,000 to cover the cost of hiring Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-affiliated The Fab Foundation (http://fabfoundation.org/) to perform a complete strategic planning and community assessment of Knox County’s needs and desires for a makerspace in downtown Mount Vernon.
“As the first President of the Knox Labs Inc. board, I am helping lead what is, in many ways, a start-up business,” Clark said. “During the past year, our board has sought to best understand how our organization will function, what need it will serve in the community, and how to ensure Knox Labs is sustainable well into the future. This grant, which allows us to hire an MIT-related makerspace consultant, will provide Knox Labs with a rigorous and well-defined business plan. It will also allow us to gauge the community’s interests in a makerspace and which equipment, programs and membership benefits we should offer. This is a game changer for our organization.”
In the grant application, the Knox Labs team described its intention to occupy the entire first-floor of the former JC Penney building for a so-called makerspace. This makerspace would be co-located with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Engineering Department and create a completely integrated learning community among members of the Knox County community and the university. Further, this makerspace will be part of the new resurgence of the South Main Street corridor in downtown Mount Vernon, which has experienced more than $30 million in private investment since 2010.
The Cleveland-based Fab Foundation consulting team, led by a Kenyon College alumna who is nationally recognized as a makerspace expert, will assess the needs and desires of Knox County residents to determine the equipment, programs and curriculum to be offered by the makerspace to the community. The project will result in a business plan/strategic vision to guide the Knox Labs board and its volunteers in creating a maker movement within Knox County.
“Creating a makerspace in Knox County, with its ability to incubate small businesses from 3D printer concepts or rough designs to possibly launching new businesses, is a key element of our community’s economic development efforts,” said Jeffry Harris, secretary, Knox Labs Inc. “And the gold standard in creating makerspaces in the country is the MIT-affiliated Fab Foundation; this is the group that essentially helped launch the makerspace movement across the country during the past decade.”
Makerspaces, like the one Knox Labs will create with the MVNU Engineering Department, are work-shop focused co-working centers that function with dues-paying members. The spaces are equipped with programmable prototyping tools, such as milling machines, 3-D printers and CNC laser cutters. These spaces feature ready access to the Internet, regional tech incubator resources and crowdfunding tie-ins.
“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with the Mount Vernon community on this project,” MVNU president Henry Spaulding told the News. “Makerspace will enhance our emerging engineering program and the city.”
he MIT-funded Fab Lab concept (http://fab.cba.mit.edu/) is a precursor to the general makerspace movement, keyed to attract woodworkers, sculptors and machinists, engineers and printmakers. Dues-paying members of such makerspaces benefit from the stimulation, collaboration, encouragement and competition of fellow participants. They also benefit from economy-of-scale through shared equipment and space.
Knox Labs Inc. was created in 2016 as the brainchild of three local “makers,” educators and information technology entrepreneurs, Mark Furman, Nate Thomas and Ryan Bailey. The organization has evolved substantially with the recent recruitment of a complete board of directors and a governance structure. The board has representation by MVNU’s Engineering Department and Kenyon College, senior staff leaders at local manufacturers, K–12 educators, experienced non-profit administrators and the original, passionate makers who seek to create cool stuff on community-shared equipment. The organization’s mission is to provide an innovative, collaborative environment that inspires community members to discover, develop and share their potential as makers. With USDA funding in place, Knox Labs is working in close collaboration with MVNU to prepare for a fall 2018 opening of an innovative and pioneering makerspace asset in the community.