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TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible?

Retired lawyer Maurice Mountain uses a CNC Router to produce a prototype of his Presto Emergency Boat Ladder. He's planning to mass produce his invention, a small folding ladder that can be clipped on the side of a boat to assist people who fall into the water.

“I think it encourages innovation," he said. "I think people who probably have had ideas rolling around in the back of their minds for years but have never had the opportunity to actually put them into production or even experiment with them would find this place wonderful."

The place that Mountain is referring to is TechShop, a studio that makes high-tech equipment available to its members.

“TechShop is a do-it-yourself maker space and fabrication studio," said TechShop's General Manager Isabella Musachio. "When you come in we have all these different areas of the shop, and we have a metal shop, wood shop, plastic slab, lasers, 3-D printers, electronics, textiles. I mean we have so many different areas and we have all this equipment that is available to anybody above the age of 12 and up."

At TechShop, with membership fees starting at just over $100 per month, members have access to million-dollar equipment, 3-D modeling, laser cutters, and water jets - all at their fingertips.

“Our motto is 'build your dreams here' because you can really come in with just an idea, and then with the help of TechShop take that from an idea to building your project or your prototype or even your business," said Musachio.

One example is Square, which came out of the TechShop facility in San Francisco. Now Square is used to charge about $8.8 billion in transactions every year.

The consumers of products that were created at TechShop even include President Obama, who thinks innovation is the first step to the future and that TechShop is giving ordinary people the tools they need to turn their ideas into reality.

“Because of advances of technology, the opportunity now is to make the tools that are needed for production and prototypes are now democratized. They are in the hands of anybody who’s got good idea," Obama said.

Jim Newton, the founder of TechShop, first introduced the idea at Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, in 2006. This idea attracted hundreds of members the first day. Now, there are eight U.S. TechShop facilities with more than 6,000 members.

In addition to TechShop, Fab Lab and GE Garages are also helping inventors and entrepreneurs to discover modern manufacturing processes.