High-Tech Workshop Where Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey Built Square Eyeing St. Louis

Categories: Tech

Inventors need workshops. Thomas Edison built his in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and it's there that he hit upon the incandescent light-bulb; Nikola Tesla's mythic New York lab contained only God-knows-what. (Teleporters, probably.)

But when St. Louians Jim McKelvey and Jack Dorsey needed a prototype for a mobile payment platform, they went to TechShop in Menlo Park, California. TechShop is a membership based workshop stocked with every tool a tinkerer could want. That's how McKelvey and Dorsey built the first Square credit card reader in 2009.

TechShop is eyeing St. Louis for expansion, and the possibility has the city's technology and innovation community hustling to gin up interest and funding.

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"TechShop is fundamentally an open access workshop," says Dennis Lower, president and CEO at Cortex. Cortex is St. Louis' technology and startup district located in the Central West End, and Lower says the organization is working to attract the $2.8 million and 1,000 membership commitments that TechShop requires to open.

Cortex is hosting an open forum today to gauge interest in TechShop. It'll run from 2 to 4 p.m. at 4320 Forest Park Avenue.

Once the facility is built, it will contain everything from sewing machines to laser cutters, giving both the city's entrepreneurs and and amateur hobbyists the tools to build their crazy dreams.

"What's happened in the last ten years in this county is the emergence of the maker movement," says Lower, describing the rising interest in DIY projects and start-from-scratch startups. "We went through three decades of outsourcing of manufacturing, and it's sort of like a rubber band -- now it's snapping back."

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TechShop currently has eight locations around the U.S., and Lower says Cortex and its backers are less than halfway to raising enough funds: So far, one million dollars have been raised and 350 memberships reserved. After about two years, Lower expects a St. Louis TechShop would sustain itself on profit from its memberships.

It's not just the tools that make TechShop so attractive. The plan calls for fifteen or so full time instructors and about the same number of part-time employees. In other TechShop locations, like Detroit and DC-Arlington, corporations and university's have bought bulk memberships to distribute to employees and students.

Lower says the 350 membership commitments he's received so far come from Cortex's academic partners.

"People that are trying to create things, that's what we're driving toward. Its that entrepreneurial energy that Cortex is now fundamentally trying to stamp itself with," Lower says.

Continue to read how TechShop figures into Cortex's master plan for the St. Louis innovation community...

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