The DigiSo Makerspace
An ordinary basement provides the foundation for a new creative movement.
It all started when business consultant Rob Godbey arranged for Dale Daugherty to come to the 2008 Create West Virginia Conference, held in its second year at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
Daugherty, CEO of Maker Media which publishes Make magazine, and the guy who coined the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ as well as creating the first ad-supported website back in 1993, reminded conferees that we all are born “makers” at heart.
“Rob and I started talking about creating some sort of maker lab then,” says Sarah Halstead Boland, who along with Godbey and about a dozen others co-founded the Create West Virginia movement in 2007. They didn’t know exactly when a maker lab would happen; only that it would.
So the swirl of activity surrounding the basement space at 1506 Kanawha Boulevard West in Charleston this summer is no surprise. It’s part of a grand plot hatched by Boland, Godbey, and others to create a culture where innovators of all ages can meet, have fun experimenting, and infect others with the creative virus that spawns all kinds of ideas. You never know; some of those ideas might become businesses.
It’s not like that’s never happened. Two hippies named Steve—Jobs and Wozniak—used to hang out at the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto, California where they entertained their friends with the gadgets and crazy schemes they hatched. That was when Palo Alto was an ordinary middle class burb where Hewlett Packard engineers lived—not unlike South Charleston in the heyday of Union Carbide.
The basement on the Boulevard is already humming with activity. The upstairs portion of the building is West Virginia State University’s Economic Development Center, home of DigiSo—short for Digital and Social Media—the first fruit of a collaboration between Create West Virginia and WVSU Extension. The DigiSo initiative, with its troupe of anchors who are working professionals who either use or produce digital media, and its cache of sophisticated production equipment, can be a rich resource for amateurs and pros likely to flock to the basement space.
“It’s a maker space, a hack space, a co-working space,” says Boland. “It will have a name soon, but more importantly, it’s already a center of energy. It’s attracting a wonderful blend of personalities and talent.” Boland, who is now WVSU Extension’s community and economic development specialist, says most of the people who are sharing resources and ideas didn’t know each other before they were invited to collaborate there. “Now they’re cooking up projects in Haiti and Costa Rica, and thinking about launching satellites with local kids. Pretty crazy.”
“The maker lab is a phenomenal idea,” says Jeff Imel, whose company Air Robotics builds and markets custom flying robots Imel designs. “It touches not only inventors and people who just want to make things, it’s going to be accessible to school kids and artisans who can come in off the street. The collaborative potential is phenomenal,” Imel says.