Amira Idris commutes two hours a day to NextFab's Philadelphia lab to work on the wearable device she designed to help people with amputated limbs manage post-amputation pain. Beginning this week, Idris can zip to NextFab's new Wilmington location in about 15 minutes.
NextFab, which dubs itself a gym for innovators, today officially opened a branch on Wilmington's Tatnall Street in the heart of the city's Creative District, a changing 23-block area on the Westside.
NextFab's labs are designed to accommodate anything from welding, woodworking, jewelry making to 3D printing, circuitry, laser cutting, and computer design. Members includes novices, seasoned tinkerers, students from nearby colleges, established entrepreneurs making products for sale, retired engineers, and frustrated professionals who come after work looking for a creative outlet.
In addition to tools, NextFab Wilmington is offering novice and advanced classes, some of which are required before members use the equipment.
The three-story 10,000-square-foot building also includes desks and offices for entrepreneurs. Members can use an online portal to sign up for classes, schedule equipment use, check the jobs board and join discussions.
The labs are stocked with equipment from old-fashioned lathes to the latest lasers. One member might use a laser to cut steel while another installs LED light components. Idris and a group of her interns will be working to get her device to market.
Katie Taylor, owner of GetYourGiftHere.com, has been waiting for the Wilmington lab to open too. Her staffers use NextFab's lasers to cut glass for the promotional items she sells. Although Taylor has a new small manufacturing facility in Marcus Hook, Pa., she keeps a membership with NextFab.
"They have so many resources. It's just an absolute godsend for a small business," Taylor said. "Even with the new facility and new equipment, I couldn't afford to buy everything I get at NextFab, and I wouldn't even dream of doing so, because it's not just that they provide equipment for you. They provide expertise and training."
CFO Ken Tomlinson said NextFab has some open spaces waiting for members to come in and tell them what equipment they are looking for. One Philadelphia member wanted a large studio to work on his oversized paintings. Another wanted space to assemble 7,000 units of his product.
The for-profit company will start with a staff of four in three connected Victorian-era buildings, including an 1890s carriage house. Local contractors spent almost a year bringing the long-vacant buildings up to city code, adding a new roof, HVAC, a security system, and installing several systems tailored to the work members do, such as dust collection and compressed air.
NextFab has contracted with Colonial Parking to provide free parking after 4:30 p.m. weekdays and all day Saturday in a gated lot directly across Tatnall Street. Colonial installed a pedestrian gate on the Tatnall Street side of the lot to provide easy access for Next Fab members.
The fabrication lab landed in Wilmington after a two-year courting process begun when Carrie Gray, executive director of Wilmington Renaissance Corporation toured NextFab's Philadelphia lab and spoke with owner Evan Malone about the creative technical workers who had just lost their jobs in Dupont's chemistry and chemical engineering labs.
"NextFab is an incredible asset to the creative district," Gray said. "Not only is this a space where artists and creatives will be able to make their work and collaborate, but it's also taking a once very underutilized building and bringing it back to life in a new way. We are thrilled."
The move was solidified after the Delaware Economic Development Office approved a $350,000 grant. DEDO required Next Fab to hire five staffers in Wilmington and sign up 120 members. DEDO projected the effect of those five jobs alone would add $390,000 to the states gross domestic product. It is the only aid the company received.
Memberships at NextFab's facility at 501-509 Tatnall St. range from $19 to $299 per month, and yearly memberships are discounted. Members can use the Wilmington lab and the company's two Philadelphia sites. Some entry-level classes are free, and others are priced around $50.
Next Fab turned three long-vacant buildings into its three-story lab, bringing them up to city code and adding a new roof, HVAC, a security system, plus several systems tailored to the work they do, such as dust collection and compressed air.
Tomlinson said NextFab should be an economic driver for other companies in Wilmington because they buy supplies locally and they can teach workers skills. He said the number one item produced in the Philadelphia Next Fab is medical devices.
Gray said two additional projects are in the works for the creative district, a company finalizing plans to locate on a block near Next Fab and a Renaissance Corporation project on a nearby corner.
"Unfortunately, none of these projects are ready to be discussed publicly," he said. "If things go according to plan, they'll be announced in the coming months.