What’s key to innovative manufacturing in Baltimore? Starting small and going big! Baltimore has a strong, innovative manufacturing history. Baltimore was home to the first railroad, home to one of the first textile mills, and recognized as a world leading manufacturer in commodities and goods ranging from copper to umbrellas. Innovation and manufacturing remain at Baltimore’s core, even though the large mills employing neighborhoods of people are gone. In this interview with Will Holman, Executive Director of Open Works, we learn about how a nonprofit makerspace re-energizes Baltimore’s innovative manufacturing industry one startup at a time.
Open Works incubates manufacturing startups and service startups related to manufacturing, such as architects, engineers, and product designers. Tools are key to manufacturing startups. High-tech manufacturing equipment costs money. A. Lot. Of. Money. A $25,000 capital expenditure in a large-scale CNC router could crush a manufacturing startup’s hopes for success. Open Works alleviates some of this pressure. For the cost of a class, a day pass, or membership, a manufacturing startup gains access to highly advanced manufacturing technology, such as CNC routers, laser cutters, and 3D printers. Will explains that use of these tools is “an absolutely critical oxygen to small start-up businesses that are trying to get off the ground.”
Open Works offers training and manufacturing-focused education; in doing so, it grows Baltimore’s manufacturing industry. For example, members and the local workforce receive training in digital fabrication, digital design, and rapid prototyping. Will also highlights another Open Works benefit – community. “Making requires, generally, more than one person.” On average, Open Works is home to about 350 member-startups every month. At the same time, another 500-800 people visit Open Works for events, classes, or other community happenings. Will suggests that this constant exposure to different people and business “has started to create its own form of energy.” Member-startups find new collaboration partners and develop new paths for business through the Open Works community.
Open Works is known for sharing tools, technology, and knowledge, and these three elements shine during the Open Works EnterpRISE Venture Competition. Now entering its third year, this competition for manufacturing-based companies gives cash investments and Open Works memberships to five winners each year. Winners start small and go big! Some past winners have established Baltimore-based companies and hired local employees. Other companies continue to promote their innovation at accelerator programs, such as Accelerate Baltimore at the Emerging Technology Center and the Johns Hopkins Fast Forward accelerator. Open Works is a good place to start for manufacturing startups.
Open Works is key to growing manufacturing startups, and manufacturing startups are key to growing Baltimore’s innovative, manufacturing industry. Indeed, Will sees manufacturing startups at the center of a manufacturing ecosystem in Baltimore. Will explains that “manufacturing, even highly automated manufacturing, still requires a lot of people.” To that end, “to bring population and good paying jobs back, we need to grow manufacturing.” Other incubators may quantify success as return for investors. Open Works quantifies success as jobs created, and they’ve been successful. Since 2017, the makerspace brought an estimated $7 million in economic development to Baltimore City and $9 million in economic development to Maryland. Start small and go big? Indeed!
I want to thank Will Holman for sharing information about Open Works. To learn more about Open Works and its upcoming incubator competition, please visit Open Works. If you have a chance to visit the Open Works space, please also visit resident coffee source, The Greenmount Coffee Lab. The Greenmount Coffee Lab is headquarters to Thread Coffee Roasters, the Food and Wine’s Best Coffee in the State of Maryland for 2019.
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