Q & A with Mark Davidson of Make.Work. and The Tech Toybox

TBR: To begin, can you tell us a little bit about your background and your history in Gainesville?

Davidson: I came to Gainesville in 1980 as a student and have never left. I love this community for its eager embracing of diversity and for its focus on responsible, thoughtful growth. I also love the diversity of the people and the diversity of the community. I can be in town, then swimming in a spring an hour later, hiking an hour after that, and camping on the beach that night.

TBR: Can you provide a brief description of what Make.Work is for those who may not be familiar?

Davidson: Make.Work is a logical extension of my passion for reducing barriers for creativity and working toward success for all. I started The Tech Toybox, Inc. several years ago, and we focus on teaching and assisting anyone who wants to create their idea, whether it be a tech prototype, an art project, etc. We provide tools, expertise, and facilities to create your own, or can pair those who wish to learn with your project.

I have seen many of the startup projects we have helped get stuck wanting to manufacture regionally. They struggle raising funding to manufacture a product with no sales record, and they also struggle with expertise. We exported our manufacturing expertise over the last few decades, and now we are often no longer able to build startup manufacturing capacity, in spite of the fact that it is often cheaper to manufacture products in the US now. Companies fail, or we lose their manufacturing to overseas.

Make.Work is a solution to this. We are providing a facility for companies to occupy and manufacture their own products. We are building a general-purpose manufacturing facility that will be shared amongst 7-12 companies, thus reducing the cost. The Tech Toybox, Inc. will be providing training and guidance for those companies to develop their own talent.

TBR: What one thing stands out to you that is special about Make.Work?

Davidson: Make.Work will provide an easy on-ramp for growing companies, and thus jobs, right here in North Central Florida. We will be training companies to grow their own manufacturing, and lower the barrier to entry. Rather than having to raise $2-3 million to get to manufacturing and revenue, they will just need to raise their membership rent.

This also opens a new level of investment opportunity, allowing angel investors to participate in the expansion through manufacturing and revenue generation, rather than the more traditional large-scale venture funds.

TBR: What do you have going on in the near future at Make.Work?

Davidson: We are excited to soon be hosting development of several startups. One such project is the development of a pilot plant for testing a new kind of carbon dioxide removal system for power plants that will be then exported for testing in France.

We are also working with GRU to upgrade power to the building to allow the next phase of expansion. We have a new injection molder and many other pieces of manufacturing equipment onsite, and anticipate opening the Tech Toybox facility there for prototyping and creating mid-summer.

We are also excited to have recently been awarded a cost-share facade grant to upgrade the front of the building. It is a very cool art-deco building, that has been highly modified over the years. We will be bringing back the art-deco feel as we open up the building.

Going forward, we are still working on investments to bring the full manufacturing floor to life. Once we finish that phase of building repairs and upgrades, we will be focused on the development of the rest of the 2.5-acre site into a mixed-use, manufacturing focused facility with room for manufacturing companies and their associated employees. This will complement the ongoing redevelopment of the downtown and south Main St. corridor.

TBR: You are also the founder of The Tech Toybox start-up, what do you do there and what are some of your current projects?

Davidson: At any given time, The Tech Toybox, Inc. is working on 8-15 prototyping and R&D projects. These range from quick one week creations to multi-year, full development projects. We are also fortunate to be able to offer community classes in a variety of skills. We are also working with several local organizations to provide classes and internships to at-risk and special needs individuals.

TBR: How do you manage to balance your time between all the different projects you have going on?

Davidson: This is always the biggest challenge—time and resources. The solution to this is surrounding yourself with great people. When coaching entrepreneurs, I always point out that success is much more about people than your product. I am fortunate to be surrounded by eager people working with me, and fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community that is eager to provide input and guidance. My job is mainly to provide guidance, leadership, and vision to my great staff and interns.

TBR: What are you most excited about as Gainesville’s tech community continues to grow?

Davidson: I am most excited about the opportunity at Make.Work to help create more of our traditional middle-class jobs that we gave away when we shipped much of our manufacturing overseas. Manufacturing is now the missing piece to growing long-term stable businesses, as well as in rebuilding our middle class.

Large companies may still continue to outsource manufacturing as they become multinational, but small tech startups still need manufacturing to grow sustainably. In this vein, we are working to develop apprenticeship programs and are discussing programs with representatives of our local workforce board and national manufacturing apprenticeship programs.

TBR: Is there anything else you would like to add about your organizations?

Davidson: The fact that we are still looking for additional investors in Make.Work to help fully implement the manufacturing floor! If anyone is interested in learning more, they can contact me at info@make.work.

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