Reimagining Philly as 21st-century workshop of the world

Posted: June 24, 2014

E VAN MALONE, 43, of Center City, is founder and president of NextFab, a "gym for innovators." The 21,000-square-foot space in Southwest Center City offers cutting-edge hardware and software tools, technical training, consulting and incubator services. NextFab houses a wet lab, 3-D printers, scanners, laser engravers and cutters, and electronics, wood and metal shops.

Q: How'd you come up with the idea for NextFab?

A: I was working on my Ph.D. at Cornell in 3-D-printing technology, and a colleague and I created an open-source 3-D printer called Fab at Home. I met with the University City Science Center, they liked the idea and helped me start in 2010. In 2012, we outgrew that space and moved here.

Q: Cost to rehab this?

A: About $4.5 million, including the new equipment we brought or bought. The money came from me and family. This used to be an ironworks shop.

Q: What's NextFab do?

A: The mission is to promote awareness, access and competence in advanced manufacturing technology and reimagine manufacturing. We can't go back to sweatshop work, that's not a high standard of living, and we can't compete with the cost of labor in China and Southeast Asia.

Q: The biz model?

A: We have community outreach and classes on using advanced hardware and software tools and offer certification on some tools. A typical two-hour class is $39 and we have longer sessions over two to three weeks that cost more. The standard membership is $129 a month.

Q: Who are members?

A: Some are hobbyists; others are designers, engineers or entrepreneurs. We have four incubated companies and four other businesses, so there are eight businesses with 25 people. Independent sole proprietors account for 100 people and we have about 300 artists/hobbyists.

Q: Value proposition for a startup to locate here?

A: The default arrangement is a $700 monthly membership for [a CEO/founder] plus discounted memberships for other employees. If you look at renting space, this is a better alternative. These are hardware-focused companies, so they have everything they could possibly need here.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge growing NextFab?

A: I started out building a business, but then come the growing pains. There's more overhead. You go from a flat, collegial team to a hierarchical structure. We started with eight employees and now we have 20.

Q: What's next?

A: We're working on other locations, sort of a hub-and-spoke thing. We're targeting a September opening for a spoke in Northern Liberties. And we're working on expanding this hub. We have more demand for incubation and co-working space here.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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