NCET explores business and technology
By Dave Archer
An entrepreneur who launches a software company can get down to work about any place that has a table, a chair and decent wi-fi access.
But what about entrepreneurs with great ideas for hardware, the things that exist in the real world? Where will they find the tools they need to create a prototype? And perhaps more important, how will they learn to use the tools?
That shop in the garage behind the house in Silicon Valley has been an important part of the founding myths of technology companies ranging from Apple to Hewlett-Packard.
The next generation of technology companies in northern Nevada is just as likely to be created in a makerspace such as Bridgewire.
Tucked away in a nondescript industrial building in Sparks, the member-funded Bridgewire is home to tool-filled shops that bring imaginative projects to reality.
The organization’s 40 members, ranging in age from their teens to their 70s, are found at Bridgewire day and night, using tools that range from 3D printers to a well-equipped electronics lab to computer-controlled machine shop technology.
And as part of memberships that run about $50 a month or $500 a year, Bridgewire’s members have access to free or nearly-free classes in subjects such as welding and use of microcontrollers.
Much of the education around Bridgewire, however, happens informally as experienced makers share tips with less-experienced members. That sort of sharing is ever more important in an era in which fewer kids stand around the shop with their grandfathers — granddad is more likely to be on Facebook than welding something out back — and high school shop classes are an endangered species.
As Northern Nevada continues to build a strong technology sector, makerspaces such as Bridgewire play an important role. (Other makerspaces in the region include a shiny new space funded by Switch at UNR’s Innevation Center and the arts-oriented Reno Generator in Sparks.)
Obviously, makerspaces are places that inventors can conduct trials, learn from their errors, and try better next time.
Bridgewire members routinely develop product prototypes that may lead to full manufacturing.
But makerspaces also create better engineers, the sorts of engineers who learn through first-hand experience things that they’d otherwise know only through textbooks. And makerspaces become communities where creative people support one another and encourage one another to keep pressing forward. In fact, Bridgewire’s leaders view the development of a community as so important that the nonprofit regularly schedules game nights and movie nights so members become better friends.
Technology is about ideas, but technology also is about the things that put ideas to work. As we focus on the entire spectrum of technology, from ideas to things, Bridgewire and the other makerspaces in Reno and Sparks show the way forward.
Learn more about the power of makerspaces during NCET’s Tech Wednesday event 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, at Bridgewire. More information and registration at NCETwed.org.
Dave Archer is President/CEO of NCET, which produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology. This column originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.