Florida tech toybox offers equipment, space and expertise

The Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center’s newest tenant takes up two rooms filled to bursting with saws, drills, lathes, welding equipment, stacks of wood and odds and ends. A 3D printer, only a foot tall, dominates the wall of one room while a placeholder sign shows where someday soon an electron microscope will be available for use.

The Florida Tech Toybox, Inc., which held an open house on March 19, is a new nonprofit spun out of a now-defunct UF program that according to President and Founder Mark Davidson, seeks to make creativity the norm and create some business along the way.

Davidson said that he realized that it was difficult to serve the community outside the university while still inside the university, so he put together a program that would benefit the entire community.

“We want people to be able to create without having to build the space,” he said, explaining that the goal is to coach entrepreneurs and inventors from idea to prototype within three months. “The key to any technology idea is you have to make it. Nobody’s going to fund you with just an idea.”

The Toybox is currently running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign through May 3 to raise $15,000 for added electrical services, additional insurance and the cost of moving heavy equipment to the new facility. Once the campaign is over, the Toybox will be able to start up regular memberships, which Davidson said will tentatively cost $130 per month, with the possibility of a student program for half that price. Membership would consist of complete access to the facilities, education, expertise and the kind of interactions that can only happen when people building things do it together.

Davidson envisions bringing budding entrepreneurs in, working through their problems, discussing better approaches, planning effectively and building the first rough prototypes that lead to actual products.

“From idea to something in your hand,” he said. “That’s a business.”

Dug Jones, the associate vice president of the Sante Fe College Center for Innovation and Economic Development, which now runs GTEC, said that talks to partner with the Toybox began almost a year ago. When the center began looking for ways to bolster light manufacturing, he said, it quickly became apparent that they needed a prototyping facility.

“Just look at the number of people convened here,” Jones said, referencing the 120 people packing the GTEC conference room for the open house. “It really speaks to the need for this facility.”

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