Imagine if there was a space where you could build anything from cuckoo clocks to computer servers, a space where the community could come together and share ideas, expertise, tools and creativity.
“And imagine if that space existed here in Whitehorse,” said Ben Sanders on Tuesday night, speaking to a room packed with 200 people.
It was the kick-off of the YuKonstruct project, a plan to create a co-operative workshop, studio and design suite for Yukon artists, tinkerers, hobbyists and craftspeople.
Sanders is essentially captaining the project. He said the idea came from the Department of Economic Development’s tech and telecom team.
“We went out and started talking to the community, asking for input and advice. What we heard was that people didn’t have the space to build things, or they didn’t have the tools, or they didn’t have the other half of the knowledge to capitalize on an idea,” Sanders said.
Tuesday night’s event was a chance to gauge public interest in the project, as well as gather ideas for shaping the space and its goals.
So-called makerspaces have been popping up across North America in recent years. They range in size and structure from small clubs of a few dozen people working out of a garage to professional design suites and construction spaces with hundreds of members.
Sanders spent his Christmas holiday touring other makerspaces in North America, getting ideas for what could be built here.
“The one in Winnipeg seemed like a model I’d like to see happen here. It’s the biggest. It’s got a little bit more of a leadership team, and it has a specific goal to start businesses. That has helped them acquire more space, more tools, and they’re actually seeing products and services evolve from that space,” Sanders said.
Right now, most Yukon entrepreneurs have to go Outside to access prototyping technology and specialized tools to bring their ideas to life. Sanders wants to see that work stay in the territory.
“The next steps are to have a meeting with the people who come forward and say they want to build it. We need to find a space. We need to find some tools. Three or four companies have already come up to me and said they want to pledge their support in one way or another,” he said.
At Tuesday’s event, the organizers brought together dozens of inventors and craftspeople to show off the kinds of creations that could grow out of a Yukon makerspace. The event was such a huge success, “we had to order another 200 slices of pizza,” Sanders said.
Thirteen-year-old Sam Fleming was one of the most impressive inventors at the event.
He built himself a stand-alone computer server and website, and he’s never taken a computer engineering class.
“I have a Raspberry Pi. It’s a small credit-card sized microcomputer,” he says, proudly.
“I’m running a web server off of it, and on my Mac beside it I can access that web page. On the web page it asks you what your name is and your favourite colour. Then on the other screen it will say, welcome whatever your name was and your favourite colour. Then you can click back to the home page,” Fleming said.
“I kind of just taught myself. I think a space like this, it would be absolutely awesome. I’d use it all the time,” Fleming said.
Another craftsman, Thomas Jacquin, was showing off his computer numerical control machine, which he used to precision-carve an ornate wooden clock.
“I was online and I found a website of a guy doing wooden clocks. I really liked it so I asked for the electronic plans. At home, it runs for 15 hours. To build it, it took about two or three months,” he said.
It’s exactly this kind of creativity that Sanders wants to foster.
“The Yukon, there is a lot of creativity here. It seems to draw a certain type of person. What’s really interesting about the decentralization of manufacturing and design is that now you can come up to the Yukon for the lifestyle and plug into the Internet, build a product and sell it to the rest of the world without a geographic disparity being a problem.
“Maybe this could become a small Silicon Valley in the North, where you can mountain bike on the weekend and tap into the Internet and build things during the week. What’s great about it is that you can market to the whole world. We already have people flying in from Vancouver who are thinking about moving part of their business here because they see some of the excitement and the energy,” Sanders said.
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