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Exploradio: Think[box] is Cleveland's free-flowing makerspace
Inventors, artists, and tinkerers have a new seven-story playground in the expanded think[box] at Case Western Reserve University
This story is part of a special series.

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Jeff St. Clair
The renovated Richey Mixon building is the new home of think[box], Case Western Reserve University's high-tech makerspace.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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It’s being called an inventor’s paradise. 

ThinkBox is a fully outfitted makerspace on the Case Western Reserve University campus with millions of dollars’ worth of equipment free for students and the public to use.

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St. Clair tours the place that’s providing tools for Northeast Ohio’s newest entrepreneurs.


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Grand opening celebration
Speech-making, balloons, and hoopla marked this month’s ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly renovated Richey Mixon building at Case Western Reserve University, home of think[box].

Think[box] manager Ian Charnas was understandably excited about the move from the previous 4,000 sq. ft. basement space to the new 50,000 sq. ft. facility. He says it, "gives us a huge opportunity to do more activities that we couldn’t do in that old space.”

The new think[box] is a nearly $10 million makerspace, or fab lab, where anyone -- artists, engineers, inventors, or tinkerers -- can meet and create. 

There are no membership fees or waiting lists, it’s first-come, first-served and free.

Charnas lays out the menu of tools available. It's a long list: "the laser cutters, the 3-D printers, the plotters, the sewing station, the computerized embroidery, the electronics center, the circuit board router, the wood shop, the panel saw, the metal shop."

Plus, he says they're adding a welding shop and, "a new kind of 3-D printing that we didn’t have before."  It's able to print in flexible silicone rubber of varying hardness, as well of varying color.

Rapid prototyping
Local entrepreneurs are already taking advantage of the new space. Scott Colosimo is the owner of Cleveland Cyclewerks. He's making, "intake runners for our new prototype motorcycles.”

Colosimo builds retro motorcycles but he doesn’t replicate vintage manufacturing techniques. He says, “back in the day, this would have been made out of wood." What would have taken a skilled craftsman a couple of days to fabricate is now being printed out of ABS plastic in about an hour.

Think[box] provides 3-D scanning and printing technology that is well beyond the price range for a start-up that may need rapid prototyping, says Charnas.

He shows me a pistol gripped 3-D scanner, "a $100,000 line item," he says. The Fortus 400 3-D printer cost $170,000, "so to be able to offer these things at no cost beyond consumables to the public is incredible.”

It's not about building skills
Next stop is the wood shop, where we meet staff member Ben Guengerich, a recently graduated engineer who hired on at think[box]. He's demonstrating the ShopBot, a computer-controlled table cutter equipped with a spindle that can cut any pattern out of wood or plastic sheets.

But Charnas says the emphasis is on quickly fabricating a part for a prototype, not mastering a skill.

He says, "there’s a time and place for making fine furniture and wood working," but, "when, in a utilitarian fashion, you need to get something done with accurately spaced holes or accurately tolerance features on a part, this is how you do it.”

Think[box] opened three of its seven floors this month as efforts continue to raise another $25 million for the complete renovation.

When finished, Charnas envisions ideas flowing upward through the building -  from brainstorming on the second floor, to third floor prototyping, to building a business plan on the fourth floor.

Think[box] builds it, Launchpad sells it
LaunchPad is the campus based business development arm of the Blackstone global investment firm, and the fourth floor houses four LaunchPad offices. 

Charnas says here entrepreneurs will get advice on taking an idea to the next level.

“When it comes to getting a patent," he says, "or searching to see if someone has already invented that, or doing a market research report, or finding investors, or finding a business competition you might want to enter," Launchpad and other business experts will be there to help.

Floors five, six and seven are still empty, but will offer space for large-scale projects, start-up offices, and business support. The ground floor will be a public space with room for presentations and a café.

Charnas says think[box] offers instant access to tools and training without fee, and "that removes a lot of the hurdles that people have to acting on their ideas,"

He says the layout and raw style of the space, designed by Cleveland's studioTECHNE, "spur innovation.”

Later this month think[box] is hosting an innovation summit that will highlight Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial power and allow people with an idea to test out with national experts.

(Click image for larger view.)

Case Western Reserve University president Barbara Snyder and think[box] benefactor Malachi Mixon, retired CEO and founder of Invacare Corporation at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Think[box] manager Ian Charnas, and Vice President of Government and Foundation Relations Julie Rehm at the Oct. 1, 2015 grand opening celebration.
Scott Colosimo is owner of Cleveland Cyclewerks and designs and builds custom motorcycles. Colosimo uses think[box] to help build and test prototype parts for his products.
Ben Guengerich is a recently graduated engineer from Case who is now part of the think[box] staff, helping people use the wood shop equipment.
Think[box] manager Ian Charnas, left, and executive director Malcolm Cooke, right. Think[box] in the past two years has facilitated 12 new patents and helped attract $2.5 million in investor funds in projects at the facility.
Even the staircase has a special function at think[box].  It's called the 'vertical collaboration unit' where people can walk upstairs, sit and chat, or stage a presentation.
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