Mississippi State offshoot helps in ‘Capturing the creative class’

Published 8:06 am Sunday, March 17, 2019

Spencer Reed’s first visit to the MSU Idea Shop on March 7 was also the first time using power tools for wood-turning.

The Starkville resident began his own woodworking business, Reed’s Woodworking, last fall and has primarily been creating cutting boards and coasters by hand.

“I also just finished doing a whole cedar dining room table and everything too,” he said. “That’s the biggest project I’ve had at the moment. I’m hoping to get somebody else wanting a custom-built piece of furniture.”

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Reed said he made the table — which was 6-by-3.5 feet — primarily using hand tools.

“I would have finished it a lot faster had I had this,” he said, gesturing to the space and tools around him.

The carpentry center makes up the back third of the Idea Shop, which held its grand opening and ribbon-cutting that Thursday morning, though its soft opening was Jan. 16. The Idea Shop is an offshoot of Mississippi State University College of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach and The Greater Starkville Development Partnership, as a way to assist entrepreneurs hoping to start their own local businesses.

Director of Outreach Jeffrey Rupp said the main goal behind the MSU Idea Shop is to be a “makerspace” where young entrepreneurs, such as Reed, can workshop their ideas and make prototypes of products they want to pitch to investors or customers.

“We want the public … to come here and use the Idea Shop to create, start businesses, sort of lifestyle businesses,” he said. “We also, at the same time, are trying to create economic churn in downtown.

“That’s a real issue in Mississippi,” he added. “It’s great that we can create factory jobs, but we weren’t doing much to capture the creative class. This is our (attempt) to develop the creative class of entrepreneurs in Mississippi and keep them here.”

The MSU Idea Shop is run by MSU graduate Michael Lane, who has been working with “makerspaces,” such as the Idea Shop, for more than four years.

“To me, (a makerspace is) just somewhere where people can go and make something,” he said. “… It can be anything. If you have something different than what you started with, you’ve made something.”

The front room of the Idea Shop is a retail store where customers can wander in and look at products such as jewelry and homemade dishware — plenty of which were made there in the shop, Rupp said.

The two back rooms house equipment such as power tools and 3-D printers, used to design prototypes of products.

“I grew up in a family of construction workers, woodworkers, so I was around a lot of equipment growing up,” Lane said. “When I got into college and saw this opportunity it excited me because I like to give back, to give other people that same opportunity who didn’t grow up with that kind of equipment to make stuff. I think it’s important when you’re going out and designing to know how to build stuff.

“We get it all the time when we’re going to school for manufacturing,” he added. “You can be the best designer in the world, but if it can’t be built …”

It costs $10 to use the equipment for the day, Lane said. However, customers can also buy a membership — Rupp compared it to a gym membership — for $25 per month.

Already, Rupp said, people have used the Idea Shop to help with everything from brewing coffee to making guitars and guitar stands. Lane said while carpentry is probably the No. 1 use of the shop so far, there are also nearly 600 hours of use on the 3-D printers.

The back rooms are always staffed with people who can help customers use tools, Lane said.

“We’ve had people come in the back and make stuff who have never used a tool,” he said.

While Lane said the Idea Shop is “first and foremost” a place for entrepreneurs to prototype their products, it can also be a space for artists and community members less interested in running a business to flex their creative muscles.

Rupp said he wants the Idea Shop hosting community events, and added the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach is already working with K-12 schools in the area to get children interested in makerspaces and entrepreneurship.

He added word has already spread through the community that the shop is a good place to work on designs.

“The nice thing about the opening (March 7) is we had several artists and folks come in here and ask about how to become a part of it, so we really want this to be a community space,” he said.

He said he even envisions it being a place parents bring their children where the family can spend time together working on projects on Friday nights.

Rupp also said that, even though the shop just started in Starkville, he’s already heard of interest for similar businesses in Columbus and Tupelo. In the future, he said, he would like to see the MSU Idea Shop have office spaces in those and other cities.

“We could really franchise this concept all over the state. Of course, it’s a little ambitious when we just cut the ribbon at 10 o’clock this morning,” he said laughing a few hours after last Thursday’s opening. “But that’s what we would like to do. We think we have the expertise to do these around the state. We’re a land grant institution, which means we should be giving back.”