San Francisco houses inventors' playground

July 1, 2011 8:40:28 PM PDT
The Bay Area is known for its innovation, but even the best ideas need a place to grow. In San Francisco, there is a workshop that is truly an inventor's paradise.

If you prefer to hang around with those who do, as opposed to the others who merely talk about doing, you might like the Tech Shop.

Seth Quest has been working for weeks now with his design partner Juan Cespedes. Together they have worked 15-hour days on an idea that might expand your iPad use.

"How did I get this idea? I was lying in bed streaming Netflix on my laptop," said Quest.

That evolved into an invention where you can lay down in bed and have something else hold your iPad for you.

It is one idea among hundreds becoming a reality at a place called Tech Shop in San Francisco. It is kind of like a gymnasium for inventers. For $100 a month, inventors get to have access to every machine in the building. If they can imagine something, they can probably build it.

"I will never bet against the American spirit and we are not done with manufacturing in the United States," said Mark Hatch.

Hatch runs the expanding company that is betting on the American entrepreneurial spirit. We're long past the days of your grandfather's assembly line, he says. Where before, big companies held the keys to industrial success, tech shop is about empowerment.

"And what we have done is given people access to the tools of the industrial revolution for the cost of a bad coffee addiction," said Hatch.

Tech Shop is an enclave of creativity, like a thousand little start-ups. If you need access to a helix laser, no problem. They'll train you. When Sean Feley came to the shop a year ago, he knew nothing about welding. Now, he's building a soap box car, just for the fun of it.

"There is certainly a goal, here. And, that drives you to learn the things you want to do," said Feley.

And Tech Shop provides you with what you need to do it, from precise machinery, to computers which help design products and talk to that machinery.

Todd Back, for instance, has invented and already built the prototype for an indoor golf driving net. It took a only a few weeks, mostly because he didn't have to spend thousands of dollars tooling up. The stuff was right there.

"There is plastic injection molding. There are things here that I couldn't do anywhere else, for a fraction of the cost," said Back.

"I think it's actually the catalyst for our careers. This place has been fostering our ideas on this product from the very beginning," said Cespedes.

For real, Cespedes and Quest's iPad product just received $35,000 in development funding. So, if you still insist that Americans don't make things anymore take a ride down to Howard Street and if you have an idea, it's all downhill from here.

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