Having done several projects with COG over the years it was an exciting surprise to see the amazing new offerings that the facility developed since the pandemic. In a recent tour after a long hiatus, I was literally blown away by the level of professional equipment, variety of applications and the on-sight expertise available in what is surely the regions premier community Makerspace. To get a better handle on it all, I spoke with Dan Falkenstrom – Operations Director at Tech Valley Center of Gravity.
Please state your name, title, and background. What do you do at COG on a daily basis?
Dan Falkenstrom, Operations Director. After graduating RPI with a dual degree in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, I spent time as a manufacturing engineer at Pratt & Whitney, Knolls Atomic Power Lab, and GE. I joined the COG as a member to make motorcycle parts, began serving as the volunteer treasurer, and have been an employee since 2018. In my current role I oversee our day-to-day operations, perform training, and maintain equipment. But most importantly, I help makers and startups overcome hurdles by connecting them with other creators and resources.
What makes COG different from other ‘coworking’ spaces in the region?
The main difference is that we are so much more! While we do have a traditional coworking area, which is predominantly visible through our street-level windows, I hesitate to consider ourselves a typical ‘coworking’ space. Makerspaces are more of a workshop environment – it’s perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to start drilling, hammering, or soldering. Our aim is to support individuals, startups, and established businesses by providing low-cost access to fabrication equipment, workshop space, education, and a network of passionate creators.
The organizational structure of makerspaces is also very different from coworking spaces. As a non-profit organization, we have a strong focus on accessibility and community. In addition, our members have voting rights and help steer the direction of the organization. We are supported by a great group of sponsors, which allows us to keep membership and all of our resources financially accessible.
Can you tell us a bit about the types of facilities that you have available for use?
Within our 15,000 square feet, we have Maker Zones dedicated to 3D printing, children’s STEAM activities, laser cutting, electronics, fiber & glass arts, woodworking, welding, and machining. All told, we have over $200,000 of equipment available for members to use. Our kitchen, meeting room, and classroom/event space are also available to rent.
Who is COG best suited for? Can you tell us a bit about the people and projects happening there?
In our experience, at some level, everyone’s a maker. Our membership spans artists to engineers, students to retirees, and hobbyists to entrepreneurs. Over the past year I’ve seen our members make everything from prom dresses, cutting boards, bio-leather prototypes, physics experiment components, custom watches, welded steel sculptures, and more.
As a state-certified Incubator, we’re especially equipped to help hardware startup companies developing physical products through our Manufacturing Incubator program. In line with that, we’ve placed an emphasis on making digital fabrication equipment accessible. It’s really exciting to see so many small businesses get their start here.
Talk a little about the value of a STEAM over STEM based approach.
It’s a more holistic approach that acknowledges how interwoven these disciplines really are. All STEM fields are intrinsically creative disciplines. Beyond the ability to design products that look good and are enjoyable to use, problem solving requires out-of-the-box thinking. Take, for example, the scene from the movie “Apollo 13,” where engineers had to design a way to connect air filters using only what the astronauts had on board – “We have to make this, fit into the hole for this, using nothing but that.” Exercising both halves of the brain improves the ability to look at materials in new ways, to consider alternate processes, and to develop novel solutions to seemingly impossible constraints.
What are your goals for 2023? Anything your especially excited about?
2023 will be our 10 year anniversary, which is extra exciting because it puts us in the company of the few makerspaces that have reached the decade mark. As we continue to grow, we’ve been fortunate enough to secure additional funding to our Community Access Fund, which will allow us to expand our financial aid programs, such as our Pay-What-You-Can program and field trip assistance for Title 1 schools. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow our socials to learn more! Now that we’ve added a Community Developer to our team, you’ll be seeing much more activity about what we’ve got going on. Our main goal is to eliminate the phrase “I had no idea all of this was here!” from the reactions of our first-time visitors.