Many of the companies that fill Loudoun’s growing incubator and co-working spaces—not to mention the county’s countless small businesses—started with a simple product. For some a trip to the toolshed or craft box is insufficient; other times an expert eye or collaborative effort is needed.
And that’s where Leesburg’s Makersmiths comes in.
Makersmiths opened on Lawson Road last summer and quickly has become
another popular fixture in the “maker” movement. The approximately 3,000-square-foot space holds countless tools and gadgets, from 3D printers to laser cuts to circular saws—down to your “simple” craft materials like paper and glue. And all these tools are available to help clients on anything from a home project to testing products to launch a small business.
The center’s clients range from small business entrepreneurs to hobbyists. Owners Mark Millsap and Pat Scannell note that one family of five often comes in, with dad working on one project, mom quilting and the kids tending to their own crafts.
Millsap and Scannell met at NovaLabs in Reston when Millsap was trying to determine whether a property he owned in West Virginia would be a good site for
a windmill. Millsap had come to NovaLabs to take a class on Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform, and was enamored with the immediate knowledge and collaboration he encountered when setting foot in NovaLabs. When Scannell came into NovaLabs to gauge interest in members’ interested in helping him to open a makerspace in Loudoun County, someone suggested Millsap.
By trade, Millsap is a facilities manager for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue, but he has an architectural background and admittedly likes to “tinker.” Scannell has a technology background and when the company he previously worked for was bought out, he took a “mini sabbatical,” researching makerspaces throughout the country and seeing if it would be a good for-profit opportunity for him. Scannell found how it was difficult for people to build a product from a prototype. Some didn’t know where to start, or didn’t have the experience. Others just didn’t have
the means to purchase the tools needed. These are just some of the instances where makerspaces can be useful.
Scannell soon realized that it would be better to open a nonprofit makerspace to serve the community. With Millsap on board, the two signed their lease for the Lawson Road space last June and two months later were open. The response in Makersmiths’ first eight months has been overwhelming. The center boasts 60 members who are given 24/7 access to the facility via a keypad. The makerspace holds open houses on Tuesday and Thursday nights and has also played host to several companies—large and small—and community groups. Millsap and Scannell are in talks to open two additional makerspaces in Loudoun.
The two believe the “timing is right” to grow makerspaces throughout the area. Scannell notes that despite Loudoun County boasting the highest per capita income in the state, it also has the fewest manufacturing jobs per capita.
“What we have is a base of people who know how to do government work, defense work, cloud technology, but those are the growth sectors of the last decade,” he said. “The growth sectors of the next decade are about emerging tech, physical things that have new tech in them.”
For more information about Makersmiths, go to makersmiths.org.