Efforts are being made to bring an innovation lab to downtown Phoenix that would give people with ideas for inventions the place and the resources to bring them to reality.
HeatSync Labs, a collaborative “hackerspace” in Chandler aimed at bringing together innovative community members with mechanical and electrical engineers to work on their ideas, is looking for a new location after outgrowing its current space, founder Jeremy Leung said.
HeatSync has worked on projects ranging from a near-space balloon to three-dimensional printers.
HeatSync has set up four committees to scout suitable locations along the light rail in Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Phoenix. The committees are slated to present their top choice for the space sometime in mid-March to the HeatSync board, whose members will then vote on the locations.
While the Phoenix committee is looking at suitable locations for HeatSync anywhere in the city, downtown Phoenix resident and industrial engineer Sean Sweat began an effort on Monday to bring the lab specifically to downtown.
Sweat has become active in advocating downtown as a location for HeatSync after hearing about its space issue from a member and realizing the benefits the area could gain from acquiring the lab.
“We need innovators, entrepreneurs, young blood — stuff we don’t have a lot of here right now,” he said.
Sweat posted a blog Monday challenging downtown residents to promote the area to HeatSync by raising $2,000 in pledges.
So far, he said, he has received $1,500 in pledges.
Should HeatSync choose downtown Phoenix, Sweat said the money pledged will go toward covering overhead costs of their move to the area.
The money is “basically a supplement to their budget that would make a downtown option more feasible while they grow their membership,” he said.
Levine Machine Building, a warehouse on East Grant Street and South Seventh Street, was visited last weekend by HeatSync staff as a possible location for the new labs. But because the warehouse is larger than necessary, a wall would most likely need to be added to allocate a space for HeatSync, Sweat said.
HeatSync, which operates as a nonprofit, is looking to pay about $1,000 per month to rent or lease — the amount it makes off memberships, Leung said. While there is potential for outside income from fundraising and increased membership marketing, the budget is limited, Leung said.
Jason Ayers, a 10-year resident of downtown Phoenix and owner of a Web-development company, pledged $1000 to the effort. He said the kinds of projects HeatSync Labs are involved in already have a strong presence in downtown Phoenix.
For about 20 years, people have been doing similar work to HeatSync — known as industrial art — in the warehouse district, which is generally considered the region between Jackson and Grant streets, Ayers said.
“What’s left of the warehouse district needs to be saved,” he said, adding that much of the area was demolished about 10 years ago.
Ayers is looking to find other potential locations downtown. HeatSync’s space requirement is 2,000 square feet, according to Leung.
Ayers said HeatSync seems to be younger than the current industrial-arts presence downtown, but it could serve well as a neighbor.
“I’d love to just marry their efforts with some of the longstanding ones that are already going on down here,” he said.
Projects at the space could range from cars and welding to laser cutting, circuit bending, and electrical and mechanical engineering.
“We have a mentality of people that are looking to build and create,” Sweat said, referring to downtown Phoenix. “It’s starting to snowball and starting to grow on itself.”
But a big problem with the area’s current industrial-arts scene, Ayers said, is that many talented people leave the region when they realize the amount of money they can make elsewhere.
“I would like to think something like HeatSync Labs coming to a more permanent place in downtown Phoenix would help encourage creative and technical people to stay in Phoenix a little longer,” he said.
Ayers also said there is an untapped niche in downtown for the kind of work HeatSync does.
“Everything else is commercial,” Ayers said. “We’re told to go watch sports, eat at chain restaurants and go shopping, but where else do we have a place that says ‘Hey, why don’t you bring your experiment?’”
The city of Phoenix has given suggestions for who HeatSync should talk to, Leung said.
HeatSync has been put in touch with people from Roosevelt Row and the Grand Avenue Merchants’ Association and has received real-estate reports of possible downtown locations, said Jeremy Legg, economic development program manager for the City of Phoenix Community and Economic Development Department.
“So far they haven’t indicated they need any additional information from the city, but if they do have further questions, we’ll continue to do our best to assist them,” Legg said in an e-mail.
However, Sweat said he feels the city could do more to attract HeatSync to the downtown area. He said he tweeted a challenge to the department to match any money the downtown community raises.
“It is kind of their job and not ours,” Sweat said. “I would call it pretty grassroots unless the city wants to get involved as well.”
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