Trio of local leaders working to woo tech playground to Cincinnati

Workshop would offer tools, equipment

CINCINNATI - Imagine a do-it-yourself space where artisans and engineers alike could go to access tools to make their big-idea blueprints reality.

That's exactly what three local business leaders are trying to do by attracting TechShop – a cross between a classroom and prototyping studio - to Cincinnati.

The California-based TechShop, with workshops in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Austin and three in Silicon Valley, is a member-driven collaborative workspace that has cultivated a national reputation for spawning new companies. 

"This is the right idea at the right time," said Kenny Morand, a Procter & Gamble Co. technology manager who is working on the TechShop initiative. He is working with Doug Moormann, a vice president with the downtown-based lobbying firm, Government Strategies Group, and Tammy Riddle, a local JobsOhio project manager who works on economic development projects on behalf of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Morand, a manager in P&G's New Business Creation unit, stressed that he's not working on the idea on behalf of P&G. Rather, he is promoting the idea on his own time because he sees it as a regional development initiative that can impact artists, engineers, entrepreneurs and job-training programs.

"It's not just about folks like me, engineers and scientists who sit in the corner of the room a lot. This really attracts the entire creative class," he said.

Initiative in early stages

TechShop was founded in 2006 by Jim Newton, the former science advisor to the Discovery Channel show, "Myth Busters."  One product developed in a TechShop workshop is One Square Inc., which is an electronic payment service with a credit card scanner plugs into a smart phone. 

Morand has had extensive conversations with TechShop managers to determine what it will take to open one in Cincinnati, which has been expanding nationally. It opened a Pittsburgh location in February and announced new locations near Washington, D.C. and Phoenix, Ariz.

Riddle was in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest (SWSX) Interactive Conference, which concluded earlier this week. She expected to meet with TechShop officials there.

A company official declined to comment for this story.

Moormann is planning a late spring event to build support for the initiative, which would require a 15,000-square-foot building and $7 million in funding over five years. Morand said membership revenue would cover $4 million of that amount, with roughly 1,600 TechShop users paying $1,200 annually for access tools and machines. The group would need to raise $3 million from foundations, local governments or investors to cover $1 million each in equipment costs, workshop renovation expenses and year-one salaries.

While the initiative is in the early stages and no one has committed money to the project yet, Moormann is optimistic.

Cincinnati State Technical & Community College and the Southwest Ohio Regional Workforce Investment Board have expressed an interest in buying subscriptions to a Cincinnati TechShop because students can use it to get certified on machines many schools can't afford to purchase. 

Morand said two major local employers, Ford Motor Co. and General Electric Co., are already working with TechShop in other cities to train U.S. military veterans and develop new product prototypes.

"Good ideas have legs," he said. "We have great effort going on in the entrepreneurial and innovation community now.

"One way to think about this is that places like the Brandery provide software. TechShop is the hardware place,'' Morand added. "That's where we can take advantage of our manufacturing heritage and establish a place where people can actually create things."

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