- courtesy of the Mint
- A glimpse inside the electronics lab of the Mint
Vermont's newest maker space, The Mint in Rutland, has been active since January, but it's hosting a grand-opening celebration this Saturday, August 12. The event coincides with the third annual Rutland Mini Maker Faire, also in the Mint's quarters on Quality Lane.
A maker space is a communal workshop in which people who, well, make things pay a fee to access space, tools and equipment for their projects. The experience also enables makers to share ideas, collaborate and generally enhance creativity and entrepreneurship.
Currently, the Mint has 30 members, eight of whom are on the operations committee, says Karen McCalla. The Mill River Union High School librarian is a member of that volunteer group, which runs the day-to-day affairs of the space.
McCalla says that when the Mint had its soft opening in January, only operations committee members and others tangentially involved were able to access the equipment. In March, it opened to the public. Now, managers of the space want to broaden its reach.
The Mint was formerly called the Greater Rutland Makerspace. North Clarendon entrepreneur Pete Gile, co-owner of Two Bad Cats, which manufactures farm equipment, coffee racks and boot warmers, initiated the concept in Rutland.
"Our small business had [metalworking] equipment that was not being used very often," Gile says, "and sometimes we let other people use it anyways. So, after hearing about what the Generator in Burlington was doing, we thought about opening it up to the public."
Support from the Rutland Economic Development Corporation took that concept to the next level. Lyle Jepson, executive director of REDC and dean of entrepreneurial programs at Castleton University, says a tour of the Generator gave him some ideas about how to support startups.
"We immediately saw the opportunity that shared tools provide to people," Jepson says, "but it was even more than that. It was the interaction we saw between entrepreneurs helping each other with ideas."
Jepson and Gile launched the first Rutland Mini Maker Faire in 2015 "to determine if there was interest in a maker space," Jepson says, "and immediately, there was." So REDC donated 8,000 square feet in one of its buildings for just that purpose.
Similarly, REDC is covering the Mint's lease for three years, as well as utilities for two years.
"There's no way we could have made this happen if we needed to be paying rent from the first month," says McCalla.
The Mint also received $50,000 via REDC from a fund established by the 2012 merger of Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service.
That money has helped to outfit and upgrade the space. Currently, the Mint houses a metal shop — donated by Two Bad Cats — a woodshop, electronics lab, studio spaces and a 3D printer. Organizers plan to add a laser cutter, pottery studio, jewelry-making tools, sewing equipment and more.
Even in the organization's early stages, McCalla says, members have surprised her with their projects. "We have a member who works with sound design and recordings," she says. "He has all the equipment [for post-production sound processing], but not a rack [to hold it]." So, using the computer-controlled CNC router, he built his own.
McCalla says it's exciting "watching people get fired up about all the things they could make." That includes Fire Technologies International, a Killington-based business interested in designing a new kind of valve to control water flow on fire trucks.
"Their vice president of engineering has been using our printer to print a prototype," McCalla notes, adding that having a physical model is useful when pitching investors.
The Mint aims to reach a broad demographic. "Educators and students, also small businesses [and] entrepreneur folks, and artists," McCalla cites. "There's a nice synergy of purpose between artists and innovators, and hobbyists who like to tinker around."
Part of the goal, she continues, is to try "to integrate all those groups. Someone who's coming at a project from the perspective of an artist is coming at it differently than an engineer, so, when we bring those groups together, we get interesting results."
Bill Kuker, a software developer and president of the Mint's board of directors, confirms that sentiment. "I've seen firsthand what happens when you take a bunch of smart, talented and driven people and put them in a confined space with the tools and resources they need," he says. "Eventually, after the arguing dies down, amazing things happen."