The growing maker movement in the U.S. has spawned centers in many cities where inventors and tinkerers can turn their concepts into prototypes.
Wilmington will soon join those other cities.
Andrew Williams and Brian Escarsega have formed Elite Innovations LLC and are rehabbing a leased warehouse at 707 S. 18th St. to be what they call the city’s first maker space. When finished, the space will be available to entrepreneurs and inventors – as well as tinkerers and hobbyists – who want space outside their own garages and FROGs to create new products. The business will operate on a membership fee model, Williams said.
The 6,000-square-foot building has been divided into workshop and office space, each area equipped for different aspects of what has been termed the technological extension of the DIY movement. The facility will be equipped for 3-D printing, cosmetic modification, metal fabrication, textiles, woodworking, finishing and drafting, according to the company’s website.
Williams said that he and Escarsega have been working on the renovation project for about two weeks and hope to have their grand opening on Sept. 13. There's also an informational event planned Friday at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) to spread the word about the new space.
“We’ve accomplished quite a bit. The shop floor is well on its way. We still have some equipment coming, but we’re close to having what I call a minimum viable product,” Williams said.
He said a typical work station will enable a user to do “multi-purpose tinkering” with tools such as soldering guns, drills, saws, woodworking tools and sawhorses.
Williams, a Wilmington native and recent graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s MBA program, describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. He’s currently on his third business venture, selling primarily to the government.
“That’s what has financially allowed me to bring [the maker space] to fruition,” he said.
Escarsega has a background in textiles, according to Williams. “Brian started a company called Port City Custom Upholstery and did auto interiors, but now he’s into industrial textiles: canopies, outdoor canvas structures – that kind of thing,” Williams said.
Elite Innovations has found an important resource in Wilmington’s CIE. The center’s director, Jim Roberts, heard about the proposed venture from friends in the Triangle and has been in close touch with Williams and Escarsega.
“I’ve sent them about 10 potential customers – businesses that came to us but weren’t suited for the center because they needed to saw, hammer and make a mess. This maker space is a solution to something we were looking for,” Roberts said. “Those businesses can come here for their office space, but now I have a place to send them for their work space.”
Roberts added that Ed Hall, a University of North Carolina Wilmington student entrepreneur, is also working with Elite Innovations.
Williams and Escarsega are currently surveying potential customers in both the Wilmington and Raleigh markets to learn what they want in terms of a maker space.
“Our survey segments various capabilities here so we can narrow down what our customer base would be willing to pay,” Williams explained. “We’re trying to price it fairly and to point out the value capabilities it brings to people.”
One of those values, he said, is the community of inventors and tinkerers that grows from shared use of maker space.
“People will come here with a lot of different ideas and can help each other with aspects of those ideas,” he said. “They can collaborate and share best practices.
“Our real goal is to start that community and get feedback to ensure we’re going to have something that fits everyone’s needs. We’re not going to nail it on the first go-round. If there are pieces of equipment or technology that we don’t have, we’ll get them. We’re feedback-driven.”
The public can learn more about the emerging space Friday, when the CIE hosts a reception for Elite Innovations. Click here
to RSVP for the 4 p.m. event.