The ASU Chandler Innovation Center is a public-private partnership among Arizona State University (ASU), City of Chandler, and TechShop. It is an innovative model to support entrepreneurs, students, and inventors to create products and start businesses. This Center consists of more than 35,000-square-foot space outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, software, and tools provided through TechShop and ASU classrooms and meeting rooms for courses, workshops, and events. It gives ASU students and the broader community access to a wide range of prototyping equipment and a creative community to support the advancement of innovative ideas. The ASU Chandler Innovation Center represents an alliance, which offers innovative learning models and interdisciplinary educational programs in engineering, applied sciences, management and entrepreneurship. ASU is t he first university in the country to partner with TechShop a collaboration that provides a model for other higher education institutions in support of the maker movement. With technology changing at a rapid pace – and education often lagging behind – it is critical for municipalities and academic institutions to embrace the needs of communities, industries and employers in providing a qualified workforce and innovation capacity. All three partners believe the ASU Chandler Innovation Center embodies this very movement.
The ASU Chandler Innovation Center is an innovative partnership bringing together the City of Chandler, Arizona State University and TechShop, a membership-based, do-it-yourself facility that provides the public with tools, equipment, training and a vibrant, supportive community of creative people. Located in a building originally housing the City of Chandler’s public works yard, this city-owned facility now houses TechShop and ASU classrooms and office space. The facility opened in November of 2013.
This partnership was formed by aligning separate goals for each of the three partners. Chandler sought amplified economic development efforts, including a strong university presence in the city and resources to grow the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. ASU sought to increase its regional presence throughout and offer additional prototyping resources as well as a network of entrepreneurs and innovators to support its 76,000 students. Finally, TechShop sought to expand its reach to aspiring inventors and creatives by partnering with an academic institution. The ASU Chandler Innovation Center brings together each of these goals, which only became possible through the close cooperation of each partner.
TechShop is the physical embodiment of the maker movement, providing inventors and hobbyists with workspace, community and tools – including welding stations, plasma cutters, hand tools, 3D printers and more – needed to make just about anything. The facilities operate on a membership model similar to health clubs, with monthly or annual fees covering unlimited access to equipment on a drop-in basis. TechShop also provides training – from beginner to advanced – on its prototyping equipment and a diverse community of experts who mentor TechShop members as they advance their ideas.
Integrating TechShop into the ASU Chandler Innovation Center democratizes access to tools for innovation and opens up tremendous new opportunities for our students to learn and create. ASU’s partnership with TechShop and the City of Chandler enables ASU to offer students and the community more access to state-of-the-art technology and resources than any other educational setting nationwide. Additionally, it provides a resource to the business community. It offers companies and employees opportunities to collaborate, innovate, and develop their ideas.
ASU, meanwhile, operates separate classrooms inside the ASU Chandler Innovation Center. These classes are offered university-wide, with ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering being a champion of the facility. Focusing on technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, these classes teach skills that can be directly applied at TechShop. As part of this partnership, ASU offers free memberships to students taking classes at the Center, with discounted memberships available to other faculty and students. A university-wide competition for complimentary memberships allows ASU students, faculty and staff from a broad range of disciplines – including the arts, humanities, engineering, and business, for example – to access prototyping equipment, a benefit that enables a truly interdisciplinary community of makers, promoting exciting new innovations.
The ASU Chandler Innovation Center is the first university and municipality partnership with TechShop, providing a facility of state-of-the-art equipment that is complemented by a large network of entrepreneurial resources at the university. Through this unique partnership, ASU, City of Chandler and TechShop can provide an unparalleled experience for makers and entrepreneurs that to date has not been replicated elsewhere.
From an economic development standpoint, TechShop is changing the paradigm of innovation and job creation as it has been the birthplace of many inventions that have resulted in the launch of successful companies and fueled the growth of new jobs in the U.S. Members come in with an idea, learn the tools and create prototypes, collaborating on everything from stringed instruments and iPad cases to low-cost drip-irrigation systems and life-saving polymer blankets for low-birth weight babies. ASU and the broader community do not require any experience or proficiency in prototyping to access this resource. The facility provides workshops to learn the equipment and as well as has “Dream Consultants,” who can help members turn ideas into a reality. Through this model, TechShop is seen as a playground for creativity and a platform for innovation – democratizing access to the tools of innovation, enabling people to turn their big ideas into real successes.
The partnership provides an opportunity to develop and retain talent, grow and support a new group of entrepreneurs, and attract new companies to the area. Furthermore, the Center allows TechShop and Chandler to leverage ASU’s entrepreneurial resources, programs, and partners, where startups/ideas coming out of the facility can feed into classes, projects, research, and accelerator programs at ASU. Additionally, ASU’s collaboration with TechShop advances the maker movement in higher education and further develops creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit in the communities that ASU serves.
This partnership benefits the region on multiple levels and has already led to impact. For starters, the Chandler Innovation Center will be easily accessible for residents throughout the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Less than a half hour drive from downtown Phoenix, the Center is the only public prototyping and prototyping equipment training facility of its magnitude for the entire region. Furthermore, with TechShop’s flexible hours – 9 AM until midnight every day – members can reach the facility during the day, after work or on the weekends.
Secondly, being the first TechShop partnered with an academic institution, this facility puts students in contact with inventors and entrepreneurs from a broad community of makers and innovators. As of fall of 2014 any full-time ASU student with an active student ID card is eligible for a free TechShop membership. This unprecedented opportunity allows all students, regardless of major, open access to tools, machines, software and consultants – allowing them to design and make just about anything.
While students often collaborate with professors in university settings, it is rare that universities provide a location where students can organically form relationships and collaborate with industry experts, potential employers and prospective business partners. The facility allows for natural mentorship opportunities and large potential benefits in the form of new products and companies. With technology always shifting, it is critical for places like the ASU Chandler Innovation Center to be at the forefront of job training.
The connection with ASU is one part of this educational mission, but it is also critical to educate the current workforce. ASU has a unique partnership with Intel, whereby the two entities have collaboratively built a customized engineering degree for some of the chip maker’s Arizona-based employees. The program is based on Fulton School’s modular, project-based curriculum and upon completion will provide a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree from ASU, with a focus in materials science. Intel employees complete their coursework in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center, relying on TechShop workshops and equipment and the ASU classrooms. With facilities like the ASU Chandler Innovation Center providing these critical resources, more ideas can become a reality and more workforce training can be completed.
Since launching in November of 2013, the ASU Chandler Innovation Center has had more than 600 individuals sign up for memberships at TechShop. 6 ASU engineering courses, containing close to 250 students, utilized the TechShop facility in spring 2014. As previously mentioned, as of fall of 2014, all full-time ASU students are eligible for a complimentary TechShop membership. Additionally, many events have been held in the facility engaging the community and industry, including BMW, Pearson, Tata Consulting Services, and Honeywell. This has also been a tremendous resource to ASU entrepreneurs and for those providing entrepreneurial training. Infusionsoft, for example, a CRM company that also provides entrepreneurship training, has hosted workshops at the facility available to the public. The facility also has become a place for recruitment and job creation. Startups using the space are often looking for additional talent to join their teams. They can tap into the ASU student community by using ASU’s career services programs. The space also employs ASU alums. More than half of the staff have graduated from ASU.
This fall, ASU will be leveraging the Center to host a national summit focused on higher education and the maker movement. The summit is designed to promote collaboration among higher education institutions in support of making and to facilitate the sharing of best practices in regards to making, maker spaces and maker education. The event will include a combination of breakout sessions, skill-building workshops and networking events, as well as multiple keynote speakers. Colleges and universities that are already playing a leadership role in making efforts, including signatories of the recent letter to President Obama, ”Fostering a Generation of Makers,” will have the opportunity to discuss how to: infuse elements of making into existing degree programs; develop or support local makerspaces; integrate making into the admission process; expand university access to local makers; engage the K-12 community in making; and play a meaningful role in the cultivation of a vibr ant maker ecosystem. The ASU Chandler Innovation Center has created a gathering space for thought leaders to share best practices and create plans for expanding their support of the maker movement.
Moving forward, metrics for the ASU Chandler Innovation Center will shift to include not simply numbers of engaged students, faculty, staff, entrepreneurs, and community members, but to the number of successful innovations that arise from the use of the facility, degree attainment from workforce development initiatives, the growth of businesses that leverage the facility, and the number of students involved in K12 activities at the facility who move onward to pursue degrees in science and engineering fields as well as start their own businesses.
This model has high potential to be replicated at other locations. TechShop is currently located in seven other locations across the US, providing ASU a platform to grow and support a larger, national entrepreneurial community. Current discussions are underway to provide other TechShop locations with access ASU’s educational entrepreneurship resources. Degree and certificates program as well as entrepreneurial classes under ASU’s Rapid Startup School program – a series of online entrepreneurship education workshops on topics that range from accessing venture capital to establishing an LLC – can be offered to provide complimentary resources to current hands-on prototyping equipment workshops delivered at TechShop locations. Furthermore, opportunities have arisen to develop outreach programs and classes that would provide support to specific a udiences, such as K-12 students and educators, veterans, and unemployed and underemployed individuals. With targeted approaches and customized curriculum, this partnership can support the growth of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries as well as contribute to the US entrepreneurship community.
While ASU is the first university to partner with TechShop, other universities could engage the company to offer TechShop’s resources to their students and community. In fact, due to the success and distinctiveness of this partnership, ASU has been approached by other universities and municipalities to explore replication of our model. The Center has been host to a number of groups who have toured the facility and discussed possibilities and best practices with ASU leadership.
UEDA Awards of Excellence Finalists presented at the Annual Summit in Santa Fe on September 29-30, 2014. Summit attendees then voted for the best initiative in each category.