When Andrew Williams developed TacLace, a military-grade boot lacing system that speeds up boot strapping under enemy fire, it took three years of product iterations to get to market.
He lacked the resources, tools and collaboration often found in coworking and maker spaces. But it was an experience that inspired him to help make others’ paths smoother. In recent weeks, he opened Elite Innovations Makerspace
, a first-of-its-kind facility in Wilmington. A grand opening celebration happens October 18.
With 6,000 square feet of space, it contains all the tools that an entrepreneur needs to make a product quicker and cheaper, including an ideation room for brainstorming, a design room with AutoCAD 3-D modeling, and equipment like 3-D printers, injection molding, power tools and sewing machines to make actual prototypes and products.
Makerspaces have popped up all over the state and country, but are most common in large metropolitan areas. Examples in the Triangle area are the Garage at N.C. State
, Splat Space
in downtown Durham and BetaBox, a portable makerspace
in a shipping container that can be used by students or corporations to spur innovation. As is typical, Elite Innovations requires members sign a non-disclosure agreement when they join the space. Membership ranges from $49-79 per month.
Williams’ goal is for members to spend three hard days in the makerspace and walk away with working prototypes of ideas they had in their heads for years.
It’s not unlike the mission of the new Coastal Open Resource App Lab (CORAL)
at UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the second of its kind in the state (Charlotte has the first) that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to test their apps on multiple devices and operating systems.
The idea for the lab came from Grace Mastalli of the web development agency StarFish Enterprise. Mastalli saw the need for a place to test the end-user experience of apps and that could help attract more quality developers to the area. She eventually connected and collaborated with the center’s executive director Jim Roberts, who lined up AT&T as a corporate sponsor and provider of devices. AT&T has a commitment to provide up-to-date devices to the lab every six month. The center also won a $50,000 Small Business Administration grant in September, which helps fund the lab.
Four UNCW CIE tenants and partners have seen immediate benefit from the open device lab, Roberts says.
Those include wine and beer recommendation app NextGlass
, fitness partner matchmaker Wolfpack, DocsInk
, a software that connects healthcare providers and billers, and the I/O Fund, which buys, improves and sells ecommerce sites. He estimates that the device lab has already saved these companies several thousand dollars each by not having to purchase the hardware. Roberts expects that the open device lab "will be a magnet for entrepreneurs that don't have access to something similar in their current community."
UNCW and Elite Innovations are supporting the growing innovation economy on the coast and bringing resources to Wilmington startups they used to go to a big city to find.