712 Innovations offers opportunities for ‘solopreneurs’

Derek Richardson

A makerspace and coworking space hybrid called 712 Innovations, offers Topeka residents and Washburn Entrepreneurship majors a facility where they can pursue their passions and develop businesses.

712 Innovations, which opened in February of this year, is a creative space where ‘solopreneurs’ can access tools, office space and like minded people. It combines the idea of a makerspace with a coworking space to create one place where ideas and business can come together.

“We’re a gym for nerds,” said Jared Starkey, creator and executive director of 712. “If you want to work out your creative skills or you want to work out your mind, you want to use some tools but you yourself can’t afford, say, a laser cutter, you would go someplace where you can access that equipment and play with it.”

712 offers a number of spaces for members, including a conference room, break room and coworking space. In addition, they have what Starkey called the “Clean and Quiet” room, which includes a digital textiles lab, industrial paper cutters that can cut 400 sheets at a time. The room also offers laptops members can borrow, server resources that can host websites and two multimedia computers with thousand dollar graphics cards and $30,000 worth of software, including physics simulators.

There is also a “Loud and Dirty” room, which includes a wood lathe, chop saw, all the tools someone could want and a work bench. Additionally there is a computerized milling machine that can cut stainless steel and titanium within about 20 microns of specifications. Starkey said SpaceX, a space launch company, uses this type of machine for prototypes of their Dragon rocket engines.

Further back in the “Loud and Dirty” room is a special tools room with an industrial grade 3D printer that can print two materials at a time.

“The neatest resource in here are the people,” Starkey said.

He said they have a guy that builds racing quadcopters, one that deals in high frequency stock trading, a lady that comes in to do jewelry and a guy that started his own line of clothing.

“All of these people come in and just hang out,” Starkey said. “It’s becoming this mixing pot for the most creative, artistic, smart talented people in Topeka.”

“If you look all over the country, there is genuinely nothing like this,” Starkey said.

Starkey said 712 raised $1.1 million in the last year. He said almost a hundred people joined as members in the first 4 months, creating 27 new businesses. Fifty-nine percent are disabled, minority or women business owners.

“We have reached a market that has been underserved in Topeka,” Starkey said. “We’re helping people to get that opportunity to start up and we are actually creating businesses.”

Starkey would also like to serve the Washburn University community. Currently, 712 has a partnership with the School of Business as part of the new Entrepreneurship and Innovation program to provide students with discounted access to 712 facilities by covering part of their membership.

Karl Klein, regional director of Washburn University’s Small Business Development Center, is also a Chairman of the 712 board of directors. He said 712 has great potential to be a part of the growing entrepreneurship and innovation community in Topeka.

“Availability and student use could be a differentiator when it comes to entering the job market,” Klein said.

Entrepreneurship majors can access the facility 24/7 for $15 a month or $150 a year.

“712 Innovations is a great opportunity for students who want access to expensive technical and creative equipment,” Klein said. “The space allows involvement and connections within the entrepreneurial community where students can test their ideas and solicit feedback.”

Additionally, Klein said working in and being an active member of 712 as a student could lead to potential positive outcomes on a resume when demonstrating application of skills.

In the future, Starkey wants to figure out a way to partner with all of Washburn University to offer a reduced membership to all students, and not just entrepreneurship students.

“I want to give them access to the opportunity,” Starkey said.

He said that students interested should talk to their dean.

“The difference between the people that say ‘man my town sucks’ and people that say ‘I love my town’ is the people that said ‘I love my town’ said ‘I’m gonna make this place what I want it to be’,” Starkey said.

Eventually, Starkey plans to open additional private offices for members. In the long term, Starkey wants to expand to a second facility he called “bigger, louder, dirtier.” He said for zoning reasons he can’t do anything combustible at the current location.

“I can’t do welding,” Starkey said. “I can’t do heavy steel manipulation. Down the road, I need a secondary location.”

In the mean time, 712 has a number of upcoming events including a Makers Market on Sept. 4, 2015. Starkey described it as a farmers market for innovators. Only locally made goods will be sold there.

Another event, Hack Topeka, will start on Sept. 11, 2015. It will be sponsored by Topeka Metro. Attendees will meet with Topeka Metro staff and solve their problems using their unique skill sets. They will then have 48 hours to come up with any idea. The event is $20 dollars for non-members and it includes a pre-party with alcohol and food all weekend. Registration ends Sept. 5.