This is my third post from the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) Winter Conference. The conference is a major component of the Kern Family Foundation's efforts to support an enterprise society through engineering education focused on students building an entrepreneurial mindset. In our small group afternoon session we reviewed the role of tinker labs can play. Tinker labs are workshops where students have access to tools, sometimes materials, for independent projects. Santa Clara University, my institution, is in the process of implementing a such a lab and so we were especially interested in the different tools and policies the more experienced schools were using.
Tinker labs, maker labs, techshops, hackerspaces -- all are names for places where people can go to work on projects. Some contain powerful equipment and people available to help you learn to use the equipment. TechShop is a public example. From their webpage:
You can think of TechShop like a fitness club, but with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment. It is sort of like a Kinko's for makers, or a Xerox PARC for the rest of us.
TechShop is designed for everyone, regardless of their skill level.
TechShop is perfect for inventors, makers, hackers, tinkerers, artists, roboteers, families, entrepreneurs, youth groups, FIRST robotic teams, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don't have the tools, space or skills.
The KEEN participating schools shared practices and goals around maker/tinker labs. They aren't alone in their interest. Phillip Torrone posted this broadly shared article asking "Is it Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make "TechShops"?
The schools varied as to the sophistication of the tools they have on offer: everything from 3D printing, laser cutting, mills to drill presses and tables and lockers. They also varied dramatically about their goals: independent learning, extended project time, ability to work on external competitions. Some were focused on completed projects, others on prototyping with cardboard, Styrofoam, plywood, etc. for basic materials.
Some university examples (not all represented at the conference and a small portion of conference schools with maker labs):
Tinker Maker Labs and the Entrepreneurial Mindset
Tools don't lead innovation, people and ideas do. That said, without the appropriate tools and materials, ideas are likely to stay just ideas. We need physicality of some sort to trigger understanding and improvement. The tools and training provided in these labs create opportunities for students to do more than expected in class. They are an open door in an environment that is perhaps increasingly walled in by certification and assessments. (More on assessments to come - this afternoon's topic - I expect KEEN assessment is of broader perspective than licensing and basic information.)
Does your local university have a maker lab? If you're from a school with a maker lab, what have you noticed about entrepreneurial thinking when you have access to tools and instruction?