Ever since TechShop announced its demise in the United States on November 15, there has been a flurry of news about resurrections and denials. Meanwhile, a new TechShop was inaugurated at Station F in Paris, just as TechShop Tokyo forges on with impassive optimism.
Paris (Carine Claude) and Tokyo (Cherise Fong)
At TechShop USA, even when the going gets rough, you communicate. Sometimes, a little too fast. Without warning, on November 15 the makerspace chain announced the closing of its 10 locations in the United States due to bankruptcy. This caused a stir among the maker community—no one saw it coming. The iconic company founded in 2006 had contributed to popularizing the maker movement by offering people a space to make for an affordable monthly fee, much like a gym membership.
It is with heavy hearts that we announce that effective today all TechShops, including TechShop Brooklyn, are closed for business. Thank you for all of the support in the short time that we've been open. For questions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. pic.twitter.com/ZPYE51QyO6
— TechShop Brooklyn (@TechshopBK) November 15, 2017
The first bombshell dropped on December 3, when Dan Woods, CEO of TechShop Inc., announced an agreement with a third-party to acquire all the assets of the company. According to Woods, the providential buyer Dan Rasure had expressed his interest in acquiring TechShop Inc. only a few hours before the company signed the final document filing for bankruptcy on November 17. A new company named TechShop 2.0 LLC was subsequently registered in Kansas on December 1. Directed by the investor, as well as former members of TechShop Inc., the new entity guarantees the opening “of as many locations as possible” before the end of the year. The agreement was then signed and sealed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Dan Rasure and TechShop Inc.
But on December 12, bang! The MoU is annulled. Doug Busch, an independent board member of TechShop Inc., makes the announcement on social media before detailing the reasons for the reversal the next day in a letter addressed to stakeholders, arguing that Dan Rasure didn’t provide information guaranteeing that he had the capital, the teams and the legal structure necessary to restart day-to-day operations. According to Make Magazine, the TechShop board had doubts about Rasure’s capacity to take over the business and quite simply cancelled the agreement.
Act 3: Yes, but… On December 13, Rasure posts on Facebook that he is still in the game, and that his company has already advanced funds to TechShop Inc. “to pay for their lawyer, health insurance for their employees, some staff pay, and money for their email services”. Hard to walk away at this point. But according to Doug Busch, these payments are only a part of TechShop 2.0’s $200,000 commitment, as stated in the MoU, to cover some of TechShop Inc.’s bankruptcy fees.
The latest is dated December 16, when Dan Rasure posts an update on Facebook: “We don’t have a signed agreement yet, but the framework has been established.” He confirms that shops will be reopening as planned, adding: “This week has been a frustrating week for everyone involved and I feel things got out of hand on social media.” We’ll stay tuned to see exactly when and how many TechShops will reopen… The saga continues.
What about international licenses?
These jolts shouldn’t affect the international activity of TechShops outside the United States. Developed under licenses, TechShop-branded spaces established in Tokyo (Japan), Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Ivry-sur-Seine (Paris) and Lille (France) operate independently of the U.S. network. They’re also associated with solid corporations: Fujitsu in Japan and Leroy Merlin in France, where the hardware store giant claims an annual revenue of 6.2 billion euros. “While we share the same name, TechShop, the U.S. and French companies have always been distinct. (…) The TechShop-Ateliers Leroy Merlin adventure continues,” the directors of TechShop Ivry stated following the initial announcement of the U.S. closures.
This position was reiterated by Dan Woods on November 15: “The TechShop Global locations will not be affected as they are all owned by overseas licensees.” However, all mentions of international TechShops have since disappeared from the official press release quoting Woods’s declaration, without any hint of an update or modification. Is this simply a case of taking legal precautions or vagueness regarding TechShop’s global future?
In France, the ambitions of TechShop remain the same—the U.S. closures will in no way affect France, declares the board. Furthermore, in the midst of all the Stateside turmoil, the TechShop license made in France unveiled its newest addition to the family on December 1: a makerspace integrated into Station F, Xavier Niel’s sprawling start-up incubator in Paris. After TechShop Ivry (inaugurated in 2015) and TechShop Lille (spring 2017), France’s third TechShop is capitalizing on turnkey services. Occupying a 650m2 wing on the ground floor of the high-tech campus, it includes a concept store, customization corner, materials library, coworking space and several prototyping workshops.
“Everything was built quickly and efficiently with Station F, in less than a year,” explains Maud Berenger, director of TechShop Ateliers-Leroy Merlin, which also manages the Ivry-sur-Seine location. “From the very beginning, Station F wanted to open a hardware prototyping techlab for its start-ups, so they contacted us to see how much we wanted to be involved.” Berenger specifies that TechShop rents the space from Station F under certain terms of agreement, without giving any details.
With dedicated prototyping spaces for metalworking, additive manufacturing, electronics, etc., a total of 30 analog and digital machines (150 in Ivry) are neatly lined up behind clean glass walls. “We planned out the spaces in terms of production flow,” says Mathilde Berchon, corporate manager at TechShop and 3D printing specialist. “Each space is designed as a path, with machines placed according to usage, in order to facilitate availability and maintenance. For example, in the additive manufacturing area we call La Couveuse (“the incubator”), in front are the 3D printers, with machines reserved for composite materials such as wood, then there are the 3D scanners, laser cutters, and finally a space for molding and resins.”
Only one team will run the workspaces across Station F and the neighborhing site in Ivry, as the machine parks were designed to complement each other in usage. “Both spaces will operate in synergy,” Berchon adds. “A startupper who needs textile or UV printing will go to Ivry, and a member of TechShop Ivry working in IoT can come to Station F for the electronics.” Already accessible to Station F’s 1,000 startuppers, the workspaces are also open to members of other TechShops, “an active community of 500,” according to Beranger.
She says that the balanced business model of the French TechShops is based on the growing portion of training programs. “Since last February, we’re a certified organization, which means that we can provide specific corporate training, or for people seeking to learn a new trade, for example.”
700 TechShoppers in Tokyo
In Japan, TechShop Tokyo is intimately linked to its mothership Fujitsu. Following the mobile makerspace initiative “TechShop Inside! – Powered by Fujitsu” in December 2014, the Japanese IT giant launched East Asia’s first and so far only TechShop in April 2016, not far from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Occupying 1,200m2 on the third floor of the ARK Mori building in the business and luxury district of Roppongi, TechShop Tokyo offers an arsenal of CNC machines for sewing and embroidery, working with metal and wood, printing on textiles and other organic materials, UV and 3D, printing and soldering copper circuit boards, laser cutting, plastic vacuum molding… all within a pseudo-industrial space and an always professional atmosphere.
As soon as TechShop announced its bankruptcy in the U.S., the director of TechShop Japan fired off a press release reassuring all its members that nothing would change in Tokyo. This was reconfirmed by Fujitsu’s communications manager Kazuhiko Seki: “Since the opening, membership has continued to grow, and we are expanding our fields of business.” TechShop Tokyo claims a community of some 700 members—students, companies, independent makers and young entrepreneurs. According to Fujitsu, more than 3,000 people have attended workshops and events hosted by the Japanese TechShop.
Since May 2017, TechShop Japan collaborates with the start-up Quantum, a subsidy of the advertising agency TBWA/Hakuhodo (which bought 15% of Fujitsu stock), to develop its activities. It now offers incubation for start-ups, product development for companies, courses in prototyping and industrial fabrication for creative professionals, a computer programming and manufacturing workshop for middle and high-school students…
Exactly one week after the announced closure of TechShop U.S., TechShop Tokyo threw an apparently successful Still Alive Party. So far, so good…
Follow the saga of TechShop 2.0