LAKELAND – Robert Berganza stood behind two large, wooden, triangular-shaped wedges at a work bench on a recent Thursday afternoon. The angled facets of the wood were perfectly smooth to the touch.
A task that has previously taken 34-year-old Berganza hours of painstaking labor by hand had been accomplished in seconds. The difference was having access to an expensive woodworking machine called a jointer-planer inside Catapult’s new Maker Space.
“When hours of work turns into minutes of work, each project is more profitable,” he said. “I can get to the point of getting those machines on my own much quicker. My intention is to come here, work hard, build my business and believe.”
Berganza, who builds sculptural furniture and artistic woodworking as Berganza Furniture, is one of many who have signed up to use Catapult’s 9,500-square-foot Maker Space that opened June 14. While at first glance the Maker Space almost looks like an empty industrial warehouse, it’s giving form and shape to the dreams of Lakeland’s artists, students, entrepreneurs and corporations.
“No matter where you are, we can help you get to a better place,” Brett Chamberlain, Catapult’s Maker Space director, said.
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The first room one steps into is a general assembly and collaboration room. It has a few dozen work benches that can be reconfigured for various groups. Rows of machinery ranging from industrial sewing machines to laser cutters and 3D printers line its walls.
‘Oh, this is a no-brainer’
Lakeland resident Taylor Ard, 34, has been running her business East of These, which produces high-end handsewn accessories, out of Catapult’s offices. For her, it was an easy decision to pay the $130 membership fee for access to the Maker Space.
“I needed Catapult for a lot of reasons, and when the Maker Space opened, it was like, ‘Oh, this is a no-brainer,’” she said. “It allows me to be upstairs taking care of the business aspects but also come down here to take care of the ladies, check in on what they are doing and designing things.”
Ard said her business has a social mission: It partners with the nonprofit Gospel Inc., which provides housing for the homeless. Women seeking to recover from homelessness are taught how to sew, Ard said, and she works to employ graduates of the program.
These women work with Ard in Catapult, helping design and produce headbands, turbans and other accessories that are sold in downtown stores, including Scout & Tag, Top Buttons, Black & Brew and hair salons.
Catapult is still building its fabric-and-apparel section, Chamberlain said, and it does plan on investing in additional machinery. This is part of what attracts Ard to the space.
“They will have automated cutting machines that can cut a lot more fabric than I can cut by hand,” she said.
It’s not necessary for those entering the Maker Space to know how to use every one of the more than 40 pieces of equipment. Chamberlain said he helps assess new members’ skills through introductory conversations and working alongside them at first.
“I want them to be safe and comfortable,” he said. “They need a quality work product at the end of the day.”
Catapult encourages its members to share and trade their skills, where more experienced members help them become proficient using different aspects of machinery, Chamberlain said. The nonprofit incubator also has business partners in the community who will come in to run workshops and help mentor new start-ups.
“You can shadow another member for a day, offer to be their apprentice for a day and ask them lots of questions,” Chamberlain said.
Ard said she has benefited greatly from mentoring under Tim Cox, former director of creative services at Publix who is now an expert in residence at Catapult. Cox has helped provide her with branding and marketing ideas to take her business to the next level.
Maker Space offers new set of opportunities to start-ups
Lakeland resident Rut Patel, 26, runs an engineering firm that he hopes to expand at Catapult. Patel has run the company out of Catapult’s office spaces, but the Maker Space offers a new set of opportunities.
Patel’s business, Voyager Industries, uses drones and artificial intelligence to help companies in the agricultural, energy and infrastructure sectors reduce inspection costs. His drones are capable of visually inspecting home roofs and provide aerial views of the landscape to asses various issues.
“I do not have an engineering degree, but I’ve started an engineering company,” he said, having moved from India to the U.S. in 2015 to pursue his dream. “I’m self-taught in everything I’ve learned: how to make drones, how to run a business, how to work with clients.”
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In 2019 and 2020, Patel got his start working with energy companies in California after the infamous Camp Fire to help inspect power lines. The wildfire that killed 85 people and destroyed hundreds of homes was found to be sparked by a PG&E transmission line.
Patel’s goal is to expand his business to see it grow and become more profitable. He won a grant from Catapult that allowed him to purchase gas-detection sensors, capable of recognizing 17 different types of troublesome gas fumes, which he is attaching to drones to expand the inspection services he offers.
He was using Catapult’s Maker Space recently to carefully remove and tweak the electrical programming components of a new drone. Patel had designed, printed and assembled a sleek drone using the lab’s 3D printers that has the capability of flying at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.
“I was going to use one of my other drones, but it doesn’t fly as fast,” he said. “Instead of spending money to purchase a drone, I’m able to make my own custom one here.”
In the future, Patel might even be able to make use of the Maker Space’s computer lab. It’s currently being assembled and will have programs for computer-aided design and manufacturing.
Chamberlain noted that areas within the Maker Space, particularly the metal shop and wood shop, are still in the process of being set up. Many pieces of equipment are still finding a spot to call home, and ventilation systems are being brought in to ensure safety.
Membership for Catapult’s Maker Space starts at $130 a month. Additional fees may apply to use specific pieces of equipment. A full list of equipment available in the Maker Space can be found on Catapult’s website at catapultlakeland.com/maker-space-hidden along with each piece’s safety and operation manuals.
Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7545.
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