MOUNT VERNON – Knox Labs, Inc., President Nick Clark has announced the organization's success in landing a substantial planning grant from the US Dept. of Agriculture to pay for developing a strategic plan and business concept for a "makerspace" to occupy the main floor of the former Farley & Moore/JC Penney building at 104 South Main Street in downtown Mount Vernon.
Clark was part of the Knox Labs board that successfully wrote an application to the USDA seeking $81,000 to cover the cost of hiring Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-affiliated The Fab Foundation to perform a complete strategic planning and community assessment of Knox County's needs and desires for a makerspace in downtown Mount Vernon.
Clark said, "As the first President of the Knox Labs, Inc. Board, I am helping lead what is, in many ways, a start-up business. During the past year, our Board has sought to best understand how our organization will function, what need it will serve in the community, and how to ensure Knox Labs is sustainable well into the future. This grant, which allows us to hire an MIT-related makerspace consultant, will provide Knox Labs with a rigorous and well-defined business plan. It will also allow us to gauge the community's interests in a makerspace as well as which equipment, programs and membership benefits we need to offer. This is a game changer for our organization."
In the grant application, the Knox Labs team described its intention to occupy the entire first-floor of the former JC Penney's building for a so-called makerspace. This makerspace would be co-located with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University's Engineering Department and create a completely integrated learning community among members of the Knox County community and the University. Further, this makerspace will be located on the newly resurgent South Main Street corridor in downtown Mount Vernon, which has experienced more than $30 million in private investment since 2010.
The MIT-affiliated Fab Foundation will assess the needs and desires of the Knox County community as to what equipment to place in the downtown makerspace, and which programs and curriculum to offer the community. The Cleveland-based Fab Foundation consulting team, led by a Kenyon College alumna who is a nationally recognized expert in makerspaces, will produce a business plan / strategic vision to guide the Knox Labs Board and its volunteers in creating a maker movement within Knox County.
Regarding this grant award, the Knox Labs Inc.'s Secretary, Jeffry Harris, said, "Creating a makerspace in Knox County, with its ability to incubate small businesses from 3D printer concepts or rough designs to possibly launching new businesses, is a key element of our community's economic development efforts. And the gold standard in creating makerspaces in the country is the MIT-affiliated Fab Foundation; this is the group that essentially helped launch the makerspace movement across the country during the past decade."
Makerspaces, like the one Knox Labs will create with the MVNU Engineering Department in downtown Mount Vernon, are work-shop focused co-working centers that function with dues-paying members. The spaces are equipped with programmable prototyping tools such as milling machines; 3-D printers; and CNC laser cutters; these spaces feature ready access to the Internet, regional tech incubator resources, and crowdfunding tie-ins. The MIT-funded Fab Lab concept (link: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/) is a precursor to the general makerspace movement, keyed to attract woodworkers, sculptors and machinists, engineers, and printmakers. Dues-paying members of such makerspaces benefit from the stimulation, collaboration, encouragement and competition of fellow participants. They also benefit from economy-of-scale through shared equipment and space.
Knox Labs, Inc. was created in 2016 with the vision of three "makers," educators and tech entrepreneurs, Mark Furman, Nate Thomas and Ryan Bailey. Since its inception, a governance structure has been adopted and a complete board has been created with representation by MVNU's Engineering Department and Kenyon College, senior staff leaders at local manufacturers, K – 12 educators, experienced non-profit administrators and passionate "makers" who seek to create cool stuff on community-shared equipment. The board is collaborating with MVNU to open the makerspace during fall 2018.