Walter Craven has been talking and thinking about business his whole life. “Everything about my upbringing was about work—hard work.”  As a designer, real estate entrepreneur, owner of the famed and beloved Norton Factory Studios, and now, founder of Make.Work.Space., he has certainly put the lessons from his childhood—taught to him by his father via the family businesses—to good use.  

Growing up in a house where dinner table conversations were most usually about work, it’s not hard to understand why Walter has both a deeply ingrained work ethic and understanding of the market—of what works and what doesn’t, of what’s needed—nor why he has such a distinct sense of the way to run a business, including an efficient and useful workshop. “I learned the value of cooperation, organization, hard work, of planning, maintaining, and equipping a workshop so that it ran like a Swiss clock.”

Walter’s latest venture, Make.Work.Space., is a place for “modern inventors” to call a home. It’s a place where engineers, artists, designers, makers, and more—really anyone with a desire to invent—can think, collaborate, create, and actually learn how to bring the final product to market. Its first (of many) locations recently opened in Fruitvale, within walking distance from BART.

Inside, it’s filled with cubicles, hot-desks, private workbenches with access to state of the art CNC woodworking and metalworking equipment, private meeting rooms, and a private event space (and even a kitchen). But the thing that Walter believes will set Make.Work.Space. apart beyond even the high quality equipment and ideal set-up, complete with anything a modern inventor might need, is the intellectual and creative community its members will help build.

Where did the Make.Work.Space. idea start and why was it important enough to you to bring into existence? Did you yourself feel a lack of resources as a maker?
The idea of Make.Work.Space. started with discussing a planned family move two years ago. A feeling of despair materialized, triggered by the memory of the daunting past experience of setting up and maintaining multiple design-build offices I needed for my growing company over the past 20 years—especially within the crowded and expensive Bay Area. If the thought of starting one’s own business hadn’t been daunting enough, finding a physical “work home” (in addition to an actual place to live) where I could design and think and prototype certainly added to the stress.

Luckily, I made it. I succeeded. But I thought: How many talented people are there that didn’t—or couldn’t—take the chances that I had taken? How many people hadn’t found the opportunities or tools that allowed me to be successful as a designer, a maker, a businessman—and ultimately, as a modern inventor?

Out of this experience came the idea of creating a turn-key, supportive, and collaborative environment, consisting of serious and sympathetic individuals: a creative and intellectually stimulating community, with a passion for producing goods and services of value. We wanted to offer other “modern inventors” a place that’s ready for them to come and do what they love—a space that challenges you in a positive way to succeed and offers you the tools to do so. I couldn’t find anywhere like this that already existed.

For me, there was also a deeper urge to fulfill the want and need for practical, stable, well-appointed creative space. Three-dimensional artists—designers, makers—are hungry for a place like this. They work in their grandfather’s garage, their neighbor’s shed, high school shop classes, college art studios… because they have to. We’ve all experienced some type of use or space limitation, as well as unsafe working environments, uncooperative neighbors.

Even though there’s no shared singular method or procedure for success as a designer or artisan, space to work is a necessity. And as I saw it, the typical current space search goes something like this: search, negotiate, fund, occupy, modify/improve, fine tune, and then eventually run into unaffordable rent increase, which leads to moving—and starting the whole thing all over again.

The co-working market has become populated with co-working spaces, but not for the tool bag and prototype developer and manufacturer. It’s now easier to find a space to make 100 pizzas in a shared kitchen environment than to make a dining table.

The most common ways for a modern inventor or creator to get access to the space they need are: going to school (which results in high tuition, restrictive access times, limited resources), a shared shop (typically with unknown quality of equipment, no relationship with landlord, no security), or… going it alone. All of which I know because I’ve been there. I’ve tried all of these choices, and they’ve each been the hard way, and ultimately, the wrong way.

What is a "Modern Inventor”? 
The word “inventor” may sound somewhat limiting to craftspeople, artists, designers, fabricators, mechanics or established businesses looking for a place to call home. That’s not at all the case.

A modern inventor is: Someone who is driven, motivated, inspired, to make a positive change—to help build a better world. Someone who wants to make a significant contribution by sharing their ideas, their efforts, with others, for the benefit of all. The modern inventor takes time seriously, and often works during their lunch hour, after hours, or any of their free time making and creating. They carry sketchbooks or have apps to record every inventive thought and idea. Modern inventors look at what exists and sees how they could change it—even when they’re doing something as simple as buying a coffee or walking to work. They think three dimensionally and are able to twist and turn material around in their heads: rotating models and pulling and pushing parts together at will. Modern inventors find themselves daydreaming of new ideas and the fantastic objects that could be the embodiment of such ideas. There is a modern inventor in all of us, young and old, just waiting for a place to plant ideas, cultivate them and watch them grow.

But Make.Work.Space. is also for companies who want to focus on ideas, products, and services that add or increase value to local, national, and international communities and markets. We are also for the artist and their sculpture, for the furniture designer and their new chair, for the doctor developing a new robotic prosthetic hand, for the engineer who wants to make a prototype of their latest seismic safety device before putting it into production.

The “type” of person, their attitude and what they want to accomplish—not their title, degree, background—is what matters. We all have the inspiration, but what we need most are the tools, the community and the business support to be readily accessed; to be under one roof. At MWS, we are creating a new playbook for the success of future design and manufacturing: a modern industrial revolution.
What makes Make.Work.Space. different from anything else that already exists?
We have the most robust combination of physical resources and business support available in the market. No other offering comes close to the “real time” think/design/make opportunities that we offer.

MWS offers a roadmap for people to be able to take ideas from creation to fruition. This includes the right environment and the right  tools for every step of the process (including the latest digital and manual fabrication equipment), as well as integrated support services for start-up to ramp-up (including a business advisor network). We’re ready to facilitate making almost anything you can dream up.

This is a place where one can imagine and create a tangible item, all within the same space—even within the same day. But on top of that, it’s about the inspiration, the thinking, the motivation. It’s about leveraging and accessing the support that exists within a special community of designers and engineers and technicians and vetted design and business partners; We see Make.Work.Space. as the future of urban design and manufacturing.

What are the types of things you imagine or hope people will come to Make.Work.Space. to create? 
We hope the items and services our members invent and create will make a significant, positive impact on a local and national scale, but also on society on the whole. We want to be the new Bauhaus. The new atelier. The studio of the new modern inventor.

Think of a store-bought personal satellite that launches via a small biodegradable helium balloon; think of a battery powered lightweight compact wheelchair that weighs less than 50 pounds or a remote underwater vehicle controlled via your smart phone; think of an ingestible medical device used to detect maladies of the digestible tract. The items to be designed and made here at Make.Work.Space. are limited only by the imagination.

Do members need to come to MWS with a concrete idea of what they want to make, or can they come with a problem they want to solve, even if they’re not quite sure how to go about it yet?
MWS is all about ideas and creating a place where those ideas can come alive. So no, you don’t have to come with a concrete idea to become a member, but those who have an idea of what may be the next big thing are certainly welcome.

Everyone has some notion about what they might want to improve, change or create, but what they don’t have is a support system and a place where they can turn these ideas into reality. One may join MWS without a specific idea in mind but should certainly be prepared to have their creativity and thinking stimulated in this special creative environment.

How do you hope people will use the space and opportunities that Make.Work.Space. offers?
We hope members use the space like their own shared studio or workshop, but accompanied by groups of friends and advisors. We hope people allow themselves to be present in this unique environment, filled with wonder, discovery, and grand expectations. The goal is for members to feel like they can push themselves and use the space to its fullest potential—and that MWS in turn will inspire each member to fulfill their potential. After all, the success of one member means that every member comes closer to reaching their goals.

Edited from a version written by Lee Havlicek  that first appeared in Attitude, the Journal of the Joss Collective

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