Stepping inside the 18,000-square-foot GoCreate makerspace on Wichita State University’s (WSU) campus, the cacophony from numerous machines printing, buzzing, welding and punching captures your attention. But to focus on them would be missing the true goal of GoCreate: helping its members bring ideas to life.
GoCreate provides a resource for people with an entrepreneurial spirit to tangibly craft their ideas. In April 2017, three collaborating entities – WSU, Koch Industries and the Koch Family Foundation – opened the facility as a workshop, idea incubator and design studio. The vision was to establish an innovation lab that would remove high-cost barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs. A $3.75 million gift from Koch established GoCreate and provides continued funding for member scholarships and training stipends for experienced staff on site. People of all ages and skill levels have used the space and sophisticated equipment to build prototypes of their ideas and begin to commercialize business opportunities that can improve their communities.
From heirlooms to efficient energy to COVID-19 response and job opportunities, here are just two stories of how members are turning ideas into reality at GoCreate.
Virginia Wiseman, founder of Virginia’s Workbench
While Virginia “Jenna” Wiseman enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, she was searching for an outlet to express her artistic side. Her father, Ken Wiseman, encouraged her to visit GoCreate. Ken is facility manager at GoCreate, so he knew firsthand what the space could provide for his daughter.
“My dad bugged me and bugged me about coming in. I would come hang out with him and everyone, and I built some friendships. I finally applied for membership and I have been hooked ever since,” Jenna said.
After becoming a member, Jenna went to classes and started working with the machines. With the help of her father and a GoCreate mentor, she made a customized wine glass set as a wedding present for a relative. After encouragement from family members, Jenna continued to improve her skills with both laser engraving and woodworking. She decided to create social media pages under her business’ name, Virginia’s Workbench, and post photos of her work.
“The next thing I know I have 300 followers and many notable local organizations started calling me… I thought, ‘Okay, this is what I should be doing,’” Jenna said.
While Jenna is honored to complete projects for local charities and organizations, one of her favorite projects was her part in a gift to a country music artist. Members of the artist's staff wanted to surprise him with a present during his tour stop in Wichita. A local furniture maker was selected to build a rocking chair, and Jenna was asked to personalize the back. She eagerly accepted the opportunity. Jenna says without the knowledge she gained from GoCreate, this would never have happened.
The tools at GoCreate opened doors for Jenna to learn new skills and brought about new opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise. “GoCreate is extremely important because a laser engraver they have -- even a used one -- is $20,000 or up. For someone like me just starting out, I can’t afford that," Jenna said. "I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I hadn’t learned everything I’ve learned at GoCreate.”
While she still is sought out by many organizations, Jenna also completes custom individual work. These sentimental projects are special to her. “Putting a grandmother’s recipe on a cutting board, or taking signatures and creating jewelry for brides as their ‘something old’ and ‘something new’ and then have their grandmother walk down the aisle with them, means a lot to me because of the emotional aspect,” Jenna said.
Jenna continues to utilize her GoCreate membership to learn more as her business grows.
“Even as my business has gotten bigger, I still come back to GoCreate,” Jenna said. “This is my home base. I love the atmosphere and the people.”
Todd Gentry, founder of HyperBorean
Todd Gentry is the founder of HyperBorean, a cleantech company and his third startup business. A Kansas native, his idea for HyperBorean came from previous work experience in the mobile telecommunications industry. Working out in the field (“literally; there would be cows around,” Todd joked), he was called to fix issues with air conditioners in overheated telecommunication sheds.
From his working in the HVAC industry, Todd saw how much waste heat was involved in production of cool air. His hypothesis was that heat could be used as a power source for these cooling devices instead of electricity. He tested his heat theory using solar heat by putting a thermal cooling device in the lid of an ice chest, then set it out in the sun. Todd discovered the air inside would in fact get cold. “It’s basically free air conditioning that uses heat as a power source instead of electricity," he said.
Currently, if there’s a power grid failure, air conditioners run off either generators or batteries in the outbuildings, both of which use a lot of power. By not needing this backup plan, customers gain more resiliency along with huge energy and cost savings. Todd added, "So we have the potential to save our customers a ton of money because these things use solar heat as the energy input; they are running in the heat of the day."
“To look at the issue from a whole new way could make a big difference to the bottom line of our industrial customers, to the home budgets of our regular consumers and then for the planet. That sort of reduction starts making a real impact,” Todd said.
After succeeding with his ice chest experiment and four years of what Todd describes as “heavy duty theoretical research and development,” it was time to build a prototype. His design for a compressor transforms heat waste or solar power into an air coolant and does not need a power grid to operate. While at WSU for an event in 2018, Todd was invited on an impromptu tour of GoCreate. Blown away by what he saw, he signed up as a member on the spot.
“Based on quotes we had from people who do prototyping for other companies, HyperBorean saved a quarter of a million to $300,000 by being able to build it myself. It was truly a huge deal for us to find GoCreate,” Todd said.
As work began, Todd discovered other valuable ways the makerspace helped his business, most notably a GoCreate mentor named William Carey. William provided Todd with crucial insight, resulting in time and money saved. He was able to help with the required coding for the project. (Design of a control system by an outside firm was going to cost around $100,000 and six months of time but, with William's help, cost only $60.) William's mentorship also helped Todd through changes to his system design during prototype testing. Guidance around securing funding is another area in which GoCreate helped HyperBorean. Under William's guidance, Todd applied for Small Business Innovation Research funding, which the company is on track to receive. At the end of 2019, HyperBorean announced it had received $2.1 million in its pre-seed angel round of fundraising. He credits the expertise at GoCreate for helping him.
“It would have been extremely difficult to raise the amount of capital needed without GoCreate. We probably would have stalled out," Todd said. "GoCreate has truly been something that’s helped our business push forward much faster and easier than we could have on our own."
William was happy to share his expertise and resources. “It was rewarding to help realize his dream and bring in more financial resources to take it to the next level,” he said.
As a mentor, William says he enjoys watching others build up skills. “A lot of mentoring is coming alongside the person and helping them learn what you are teaching. You’re continually growing yourself out of a job because people are becoming skilled at what they are doing,” he added.
William encourages anyone with an idea to participate in GoCreate, whether as a member or a mentor.
“This is a great place to learn and to teach others. We have a lot of creative people here who want to make something happen with the dream you have,” William said.
Interested in bringing your idea to life? Learn more about GoCreate and its membership options here.