A company based on the dreams of his community, Andrew Hanegmon founded Iron Range Makerspace LLC as a co-working space/business incubator that members have access to, primarily by paying a monthly membership fee much like a gym operates. The makerspace will have its grand opening on June 17th and will provide a metal shop, wood shop, and clean shop with equipment such as lathes, laser engravers, 3D printers, and many other items. There will be classes or workshops taught on a regular basis to assist the community in finding their talents and increasing their skill set. Andrew encourages you to contact him with thoughts, feedback, and any other support to help him and his team facilitate growth in their region and have fun doing it! To meet Andrew and learn more about Iron Range Makerspace in person, be sure to stop by the upcoming Minneapolis/St. Paul Mini Maker Faire at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Grandstand on June 3rd, 2017.
Talk about the beginnings of Iron Range Makerspace. What inspired you to begin this endeavor?
The moment I saw a makerspace was the moment that I knew I needed to get a makerspace in my region. My first encounter was a Tech Shop out in Pittsburgh. I was inspired by the amount of resources that they had there. When I got back to the Iron Range, I did some research on the concept and delivered a 10 minute presentation to all my fellow students and instructors. I was in college at the time at Iron Range Engineering. After that discussion, a few of the instructors asked if I was going to try and start one, and at that point I decided I would. I assembled a group of students that were also passionate about the project and set it up to be my final design project for my degree. The team and I spent my entire last semester working on planning everything out.
The concept really hit home for us due to the uncertainty of the mining industry which is the Iron Range’s main industry. When we were designing the space, this industry as a whole was in a slump. All hands from economic development agencies to community leaders were in search of something positive for our region that had potential to help create sustainability in our region. The team and I realized that a makerspace was a way to not only have a creative center for our region but also provide a space that entrepreneurs can create prototypes and hopefully start more local businesses. The fact that we could make a real impact in our rural region by centralizing resources into a makerspace made us work immensely hard at developing the perfect makerspace for our area.
Have you always been creative? What choices or steps have led up to your current creative projects?
I really don’t consider myself all that creative actually. I have always been inspired by those around me who had amazing talent for drawing, creating, and understanding the mechanics of the world. I would say I have always been curious about how things are made. Curiosity is what pushes me into the maker movement. When I was little, I took everything apart that I could so that I knew how it worked. Eventually, I learned how to fix things now and then too! I dabbled in woodworking, painting cars, mechanics, engineering, and anything else I wanted to know more about. I love trying out new tools or methods of doing things. I also have found that I really enjoy sharing that curiosity of the world with others who strive for lifelong learning. That is a big factor in why I am part of the Iron Range Makerspace. I have always imagined paradise not as a lovely beach setting but as having a factory with every tool I can imagine that I could share with my fellow creators, and now we have one!
In terms of living and making in Minnesota, do you feel connected to this place?
I feel very connected to Minnesota. I grew up on the Iron Range as did all of my friends and family. I have had opportunities to go out and see the world, but Minnesota is always home. As I dive further and further into the maker movement in Minnesota, I find more and more locals who are creating such amazing works of art and creativity. These artists, inventors, and makers make me feel like I am not going on the maker journey alone. We all inspire each other to push creative limits and focus our energy into making our regions better places to be.
Why does the community aspect of a makerspace add to the fulfillment of making?
Without community, a makerspace is just a lonely factory where robots come to produce products. A makerspace is all about the culture and community within its walls. In fact, I recall many times having team discussions where we said that the makerspace doesn’t even need a building or equipment. Those items are just bonuses. A makerspace needs people who are creative and want to share resources, knowledge, and inspire each other. The space could be anywhere with any resources. Makerspaces can be in basements, outdoors, or in fully set up factories. The defining measure of a makerspace is the people within it. They add fulfillment. It is an amazing thing to be able to enjoy the success of a completed project with your fellow makers. Heck, I am even grateful for sharing my frustrations when a project isn’t going right because if the community is there then more often than not someone else has a tip or a trick to offer up.
What is your mission with Iron Range Makerspace?
The mission of the Iron Range Makerspace is to centralize resources into one collaborative environment designed for innovation. We live in a rural area which means we don’t always have easily accessed resources. By creating a physical space that collects these resources and delivers them in a professional, clean, and fun capacity, we believe strongly that the quality of life in our region will benefit massively. Our vision includes enabling entrepreneurs to start businesses at a lower cost and providing a facility of productive entertainment.
What do you see for the future of your business?
The first thing is an official grand opening June 17th! After two years of work, we are ready to unveil a completed product which is super exciting for us! At that point, the future is only limited by our member’s creativity and let’s just say that is not lacking by any means. The makerspace intends to expand and expand with the intent of developing sustainability for our entire region even after we run out of ore. We don’t just want to create jobs and businesses, but develop a culture region wide that is known globally for its innovation, amazing work ethic, and openness to collaborate. I personally know we as a people have the potential to do this and that the Iron Range is way more than ore.
Are experimentation and trying to new techniques important to your vision and execution?
We try new things all of the time. From the stand point of building momentum around the makerspace, trying new things has been instrumental in our success so far. We tried applying to grants that were never received in Minnesota before and got them. Our team experimented with trying different approaches to getting support for the makerspace from asking local government to asking private parties. None of us had led a community project like this before, but we just kept trying new approaches. We spent a lot of time trying to learn from other makerspaces, other industries, and more to find takeaways that fit our mission.
As we remodel the makerspace, our main goal is to have a very modular shop that is up to the standards of a modern manufacturing facility. To do this, we have thought outside of the box on many fronts. We have used lean manufacturing principles regularly as we accomplish this task. For example, in our makerspace, all equipment will be on mobile platforms that can be repositioned into custom assembly lines. The floor plan has been kept wide open to accommodate the variety of projects that our members may be working on. Even our tool room was laid out differently than others have. All tools will be on shelves or peg hooks with labels as to where they go. This helps novice makers learn the names of the tools and encourages everyone to put things back where they belong which always makerspace workers to spend more time focusing on the future versus cleaning the shop. The makerspace team is always experimenting with new ways of organizing the space to fit the needs of our members.
Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?
My ultimate maker project is making the makerspace, so I feel that spending the last two years designing this space truly has allowed me to contribute to something larger than myself. I have seen over 60 volunteers come out to help with the remodel of our building. That is amazing to me and really makes me reflect on how important this is for all of the makers that have been following our project. We are creating a facility that families can come create together in, inventors can develop ideas, and our youth can get involved in productive activities. A makerspace in my opinion can change the world in so many ways, so absolutely I think that our makerspace and the maker movement in general is so much bigger than me, my team, or even my region.
Have you participated in MSP Mini Maker Faire before? What will you be sharing there on June 3rd?
The makerspace had a booth last year, and we loved it! We came for education day that year as well which was a great opportunity to share our making passion with the kids that came through. This year, we will be sharing all sorts of project updates and plans that we used in creating our makerspace as well as a few smaller projects that some of us have done. We will also be bringing some mind puzzles again to test our booth visitor’s troubleshooting abilities!