In March 2020, new neighbors moved into 801 Schenkel Lane, where they developed a community of innovators, critical thinkers, crafters and discoverers.
The community, known as the Franklin Center for Innovation, is a non-profit makerspace with about 30 members.
Gary Stratton, president of the board of directors, said he and some other partners started talking about opening up the makerspace in the summer of 2019.
Stratton is a member of the Frankfort Entrepreneurs group and he teaches business classes at Kentucky State University, where he met innovation director Ron Chi.
“We started talking about different things we could do and things we had been doing at KSU, but one thing was missing,” Stratton said.
That one thing was an innovation network.
“The state used to have an innovation network,” Stratton said. “There were different locations where you could start things out of, but nothing in Frankfort. That whole system got dismantled. There was no makerspace or incubator in the capital city.”
After several more meetings with Frankfort Entrepreneurs, the idea of having a makerspace began to come to fruition.
“We had people really interested,” Stratton said. “Then we got the non-profit put together and organized and then this space came available.”
He signed the lease for the building just a few days before the pandemic shutdown.
Jason Allen, executive director, said they couldn’t open the center up for members, so they spent the first few months setting up and organizing the 10,000-square-foot space.
Allen used to volunteer at Learning Center High School in Lexington where Chi was the principal. Allen set up a makerspace at the school, which is for gifted students. Chi introduced Allen to Stratton.
Along with setting up the makerspace, Allen also had the idea to incorporate business incubators.
“If you come in as a small business you can come in and manufacture your product,” Allen said. “It’s an innovation center.”
Stratton said that some cities have makerspaces, but not business incubators. Franklin Center for Innovation has both.
“The goal is to help Frankfort be more entrepreneurial,” Stratton said.
The center is divided into a variety of spaces. There are two sewing labs, a room for embroidery, a Cricut lab, a heat press machine, a screen print room and vinyl plotter room. There are also private offices for rent, a robotics lab with six 3D printers, a kids corner, a private prototype space with a 3D printer, a server room, assembly room, an ideation lounge and a woodshop with state-of-the-art equipment.
A lot of the woodworking equipment was acquired through a donation by Janet Foster-Penn. The woodworking equipment — along with art supplies, measuring tools and books — belonged to her late husband Tandy Penn.
“I tell people we’re using Tandy’s tools and we need to respect them,” Allen said.
Sig Luscher Brewery provided the funding to purchase the screen printing equipment.
Member Kevin Jones was recently refinishing a mantel in the woodworking shop. He has been a member since the center opened.
“I like to keep my hands busy and explore whatever I feel like exploring,” Jones said. “The advantage of a makerspace is if you don’t have an exact skill of building something, there’s probably someone there who does. I love to help and teach people.”
There is also a large boardroom where meetings and classes are held.
“In makerspaces, the theme is about discovery and members working together,” Allen said.
Members take classes held by local business coaches. Classes about financial literacy, how to write a resume and how to get a business license are in the works. Members also hold classes teaching other members their craft.
Allen said he also helps people to develop their business plan and focus their ideas.
“One of my missions is to help them focus,” Allen said about the members. “Some folks need to pick a lane. When I first started, I was all over the place.”
Allen has a business called Davinci 101 he operates with business partner Sam Saarinen. They make educational tabletop games for Brain Crate Club. They’re most recent game was “Minds Across Time.”
“We went to great lengths to do something that was different and use real people from history and create a tabletop educational card game,” Allen said.
Allen also offers programs for schools and plans to offer camps during the summer. A few months ago, Allen taught about 30 students from Frankfort Independent Schools how to build solar cars.
“Robotics manufacturing is important to youth,” Allen said. “A student could walk out of a program here and have some insight into how coding and robotics and programming works.”
Allen and Stratton are hoping to continue to build partnerships with educators in the local K-12 districts and KSU.
“The sky is the limit as to who we can partner with,” Stratton said. “Whatever you’re doing, we can partner with you in programming.”
Allen said they are also partnering with Thorn Hill Education Center in building a “teaching garden.” They have planted fruits and vegetables, and plan to have plots that will be open to the public.
Stratton and Allen said they plan to host a couple of festivals during the year where their makers can set up tables in the parking lot and sell their handmade crafts.
“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase things the members are doing,” Allen said. “There are a lot of folks making cool stuff that we want to help get more exposure.”
There are currently 25 makerspace members and four people who are incubating business offices. The monthly fee to be a member is $35. After new members take a safety course, they have full 24/7 access to the building. A family of four membership costs $55.
The fees collected through memberships are used to purchase equipment for the building and cover operational costs.
For more information, visit franklincenterforinnovation.com.