TRAVERSE CITY — Budding entrepreneurs with a brilliant idea may someday be able to create product prototypes at Northwestern Michigan College.
They could gather at what might be called a "makerspace" or an "innovation center" — essentially a campus gathering place where the public could use sophisticated technology equipment and software, now available to only students.
NMC Board Trustee Bill Myers proposed the idea at a recent board retreat at the Chateau Chantal winery.
Myers specifically talked about the college's 3-D printers and how they could be used to create prototypes of manufacturing parts or products.
“If people are not intimidated to do what it takes to create a business, we could have cottage businesses all over the place,” he said.
To illustrate the 3-D printer's capability, Myers passed around a realistic model of a large hand created with an NMC printer.
Such public design spaces have been set up all over the country. Mott Community College, for example, runs a FABLAB, open to small business people, entrepreneurs and students. People walk in with an idea and often walk out with a model or prototype, said Joe Pakkala, FABLAB’s senior program manager.
“What I have in my hand right now is a ‘twist and clip’ that holds your hair — what I used to call a bun,” said Pakkala in a phone interview. “The inventor took it to market and she’s selling them right now.”
Pakkala said inventors also made prototypes of a "teether" for babies and a door jam that locks a sliding door; those also are on the market.
Ed Bailey, NMC’s technical division director, provided a tour of Parson-Stulen Building on NMC's Aero Park Campus that houses the 3-D printers, lathes and much more.
“This idea is less about companies and more about individuals who have an idea for a project,” Bailey said. “There are a lot of people who are coming to us now who say, 'I have this idea, but I need to get it printed out on a 3-D computer to see if it’s actually viable.'”