TechShop Pittsburgh Now Seeking Foundation, Corporate Support To Keep Its Doors Open

Jul 7, 2017

The general manager of TechShop Pittsburgh is hopeful the community workshop space can stay open beyond the anticipated closing date of Sept. 1.

“I don’t want to set any expectations that we can’t deliver on, but that’s what we’re working on,” said Gadsden Merrill, who was part of the original staff at TechShop Pittsburgh when it opened in Bakery Square in 2013.

San Jose-based TechShop announced June 1 it planned to close its Pittsburgh location.

The news came three years after President Barack Obama stopped by TechShop Pittsburgh, saying the federal government wanted to support access to high-tech manufacturing equipment for entrepreneurs, hobbyists and tinkerers.

TechShop’s vice president of marketing Michael Catterlin said the location has been losing about $20,000 every month for nearly two years.

“The individual membership model that we have, what we’re shown in Pittsburgh is, on its own, in a market of that size, without community support, it doesn’t cover its base operating expenses,” Catterlin said.

A one-year membership to TechShop costs $1,650, with discounts for family memberships, students and active-duty military.

Catterlin said during that time, the company has actively sought foundation and institutional partners to help pick up the remaining 15 to 20 percent of operating costs, with little success.

He pointed to the model used in Dearborn, Mich., where Ford Motor Company purchases memberships to TechShop Detroit for its engineers, and in Chandler, Ariz., where Arizona State University purchases memberships for students.

But he said selling that model elsewhere has been a challenge.

“And it’s not just in Pittsburgh. It’s in every market we go to, of convincing them that this is not just good for the community, but that those dollars are well spent going to an entity that’s really owned and controlled by an out-of-town, for-profit company,” Catterlin said.

TechShop CEO Dan Woods said Thursday in a statement that the company has “seen an incredible outpouring of support from the community,” and that foundations and community members have been “eager to participate on some level” in keeping the Pittsburgh location open.

“Foundation support, we’re looking for increased commitments from our current corporate partners, we’re looking for potentially a letter of intent for membership in the future, looking for non-profits, someone who can step up to hold the license, be the operator of the future shop,” Merrill said.

Merrill said they are “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of keeping TechShop Pittsburgh open.

Plans were scrapped to reallocate Pittsburgh’s equipment – including a laser etcher, 3-D printer and computers stocked with professional design software – to the forthcoming Brooklyn location, according to Woods.

TechShop Pittsburgh’s lease with its landlord, Walnut Capital, has also been extended until the end of September.

Merrill said current conversations with potential benefactors include discussions about how to close the operational deficit to make TechShop break even.

“That will probably involve some cost saving at a new facility, as well as increased programs for membership and youth and adult education,” he said.

Nationally, larger TechShop parent company is in the midst of planning a “strategic pivot,” said Catterlin, moving away from individual ownership and toward a licensing model. Locations would be locally owned but would license the TechShop name and established operating protocols.