Business & Economy

MINT condition: New space opens for entrepreneurs, tinkerers in Rutland

The MINT
Marianne Sheehan, of Poultney, holds an American flag she made with scrap and reclaimed wood at The MINT maker space in Rutland. The MINT is holding a grand opening Saturday. Photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

RUTLAND — In one corner small bursts of sparks fly from a welder. Over in another spot a person is using a machine to fabricate nuts and the accompanying bolts. And not far away someone else in making wooden American flags, all from scrap and reclaimed pieces.

It’s Wednesday afternoon at The MINT, Rutland’s “maker space.”

The roughly 10,000-square-foot facility on 112 Quality Lane contains the latest technology for printing, cutting, designing, building and creating. The space is available for everyone from entrepreneurs to those who like to tinker.

There are other maker spaces in Vermont, but this will be the first in the southwest portion of the state. The MINT will host a grand opening ceremony from noon to 5 pm. Saturday, with the ribbon set to be cut at 3 p.m.

“The hardest part of doing a maker space is getting it off the ground,” said Karen McCalla, who describes herself as a “maker evangelist” and a member of the facility’s operations committee.

“It’s super chicken or egg because you can’t get people to sign up unless you have tools and space,” McCalla said, adding, “and you can’t get tools and space unless you have people sign up.”

The MINT
A sign greets visitors to The MINT maker space in Rutland. Photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

The MINT, an acronym for “Make, Invent, Network, Tinker,” has been in the works for the past couple of years, with a group makers coming together with economic development officials to bring the idea to fruition.

Rutland Economic Development Corp. is donating the space in the facility rent-free to the organization for three years and providing other assistance with capital costs in helping get the project off the ground.

Many other organizations and businesses have contributed, filling the facility with equipment, machinery, electronics and other technology that would be well out of reach for a one-person operation trying to get off the ground or hobbyist looking pursue an interest.

The maker space revolves around the concept of shared space and shared equipment to help grow businesses as well as allow tinkerers to tinker.

“Just giving people access to a 3-D printer means that if you have an idea for any wiggity-piece that you need, you can design it and print it,” McCalla said. “It’s very doable.”

The volunteer-run group has been working since October to get the space ready for Saturday’s opening event, which they are combining with a maker fair to showcase the work.

Everything from drones to cardboard pinball machine kits, air rockets to robots, will be on display at the celebration. Tours of the new facility, which includes wood and metal shops, will also be provided.

Forest Immel, of Castleton, who stopped into The MINT on Wednesday afternoon, described himself as someone who likes to tinker.

“I have a few pet projects,” he said. “I”m not one of the business-y type people.”

He said having such a maker space available provides great opportunities to develop new skills.

“It connects people who all have different areas of expertise and we can learn from each other,” he said. “The ability to trade skills is something that’s really valuable.”

Immel also saw the maker space as an “incubator” for those looking to launch a business.

“Say you want to design a product that utilizes a laser cutter. You don’t have $20,000 to buy a laser cutter for your house, so you come here,” Immel said. “You can kind of build that business enough to where you’re going to be outgrowing this space, but you have the cash flow then to buy the tools for your own space.”

Marianne Sheehan, who served in the U.S. Air Force and is from Poultney, was in the woodworking section of the maker space Wednesday. She is making American flags from wood scraps, and she hopes to use proceeds from the sales to help veterans in need.

The MINT
Dawn Charron, of West Haven, displays a nut and bolt she created during a class Wednesday at The MINT maker space in Rutland. The MINT is hosting a grand opening ceremony Saturday. Photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

Dawn Charron came into the facility Wednesday from West Haven. She took part in a metals class and proudly displayed a nut and bolt she created.

“I live on a farm, and you have to fix stuff,” Charron said. “Sometimes you just have to learn to make your own.”

More than 30 people have already signed up for membership at The MINT, which opened its doors earlier this year. The facility now has more of its tools in place and is ready to get word out to a wider audience leading to Saturday’s grand opening celebration.

McCalla said the makerspace isn’t all about creating new businesses. It’s also about people learning and honing skills.

She added, “I want everyone to have that empowering experience of, ‘I made this,’ whatever ‘this’ is.”

For more information on The MINT, go to rutlandmint.org.

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