Abq Journal: From soup kitchen to high-tech makerspace

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The old Noonday Ministries soup kitchen at Central and Broadway Downtown has gone from feeding the homeless to feeding creative innovation and entrepreneurship in the heart of Albuquerque.

Central New Mexico Community College invested $1.2 million to convert the building into a premier community makerspace where people can turn bright ideas into new products and services. The newly remodeled, 13,000-square-foot FUSE Makerspace officially opened its doors on Sept. 26 as a key component of Innovate ABQ, the public-private partnership project that aims to transform the old 7-acre First Baptist Church property Downtown into a high-tech research and development hub for entrepreneurship and startup incubation.

The facility, located on the southwest corner of the site, sits kitty-corner to the new six-story Lobo Rainforest building that the University of New Mexico inaugurated in August. It will provide Rainforest-based innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers direct access to cutting-edge equipment and tools to prototype new products and technologies. It will also offer the Albuquerque community in general an affordable makerspace for aspiring entrepreneurs and even hobbyists to create custom-made goods for almost any Main Street business.

CNM originally launched FUSE in 2016 at a 3,000-square-foot space on campus. But that rapidly grew cramped with more than 300 users taking advantage of all the equipment, tools, training and mentoring services it offers.

In response, a range of partners stepped up to help remodel the Noon Day Ministries building, allowing FUSE to relocate into a much more spacious spot smack in the center of Innovate ABQ. Donations came from both public and private entities, including the W.K Kellogg and the Albuquerque Community foundations, the New Mexico Gas Co.’s parent firm Emera, Intel Corp., the Air Force Research Laboratory and the city.

“This addition to our innovation district builds on the transformation of Downtown as a place for ideas to take shape and businesses to be born and grow,” said Mayor Richard Berry in a statement commemorating the FUSE inauguration. “With FUSE’s relocation right across the parking lot from UNM’s Rainforest building, the opportunities for collaboration among creative and technical minds will be increased exponentially.”

The makerspace includes cutting-edge machinery, equipment and tools for creative endeavors from computer-aided design to wood cutting, jewelry making and screen printing.

“It runs the full gamut from high-tech machinery to artistic makerspace equipment,” said Kyle Lee, executive director of CNM Ingenuity, which manages commercial activities for the college. “We have fully equipped shops for wood and metal cutting and melding, including laser cutters and computer-programmed tools to slice things into unique and sophisticated shapes. We also just added a new metal bending and cutting tool.”

There’s a paper and textile printing lab, equipment for robotics and electronics fabrication, and a rapid-prototyping lab with rows of 3-D printers.

The jewelry-making lab also offers state-of-the-art tools, such as centrifugal and vacuum kiln-casting equipment, a 20-ton hydraulic press to form metal, and a Micro TIG Welder to weld jewelry under a microscope.

Apart from equipment, FUSE offers broad business support services, including training programs, mentoring, and technical assistance in things like patent filings, startup creation, marketing, and production runs. Additional support is available through the ABQid business accelerator, which is moving into an upstairs space at FUSE, plus networking opportunities through workshops and events, and offices for incubating new companies.

To date, FUSE has helped nearly a dozen companies get off the ground, including startups that produce custom-built snowboards and guitars.

Marty Bonacci, who founded the snowboard-building firm Custom Cult LLC, said FUSE allowed him to create a high-tech production line to rapidly design uniquely-shaped snowboards based on customer specifications.

“It would cost like $3,000 to $4,000 to set up a production line in a commercial machine shop, but in the makerspace, it was about one-tenth that cost,” Bonacci said. “It saved us a ton of money.”

Bonacci also partnered with Matthew Barbato to launch Rt. 66 Guitar Works through FUSE. They make old-style, mid-20th Century guitars and amps from scratch at the makerspace, taking custom orders that run from a low of $120 up to $999.

“We specialize in making modern versions of vintage guitars, both electric and folk,” Barbato said. “We’ve also built templates with instructions on Plexiglas for people to make their own guitars in their garage. That’s become our biggest seller, with about 600 orders to date.”

For CNM, the FUSE makerspace is just the first step in the college’s entrance into Innovate ABQ. CNM also expects to move its Deep Dive Coding training program and its IGNITE business accelerator into the old, 71,000-square-foot church sanctuary on the southeast corner of the First Baptist Church site, Lee said.

Innovate ABQ developers expect to begin remodeling that building next year into a high-tech, multi-use facility for startups and entrepreneurial programs.

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