Making and Thinking Big in Tulsa

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With Nathan Pritchett of Fab Lab Tulsa

In episode #22 of Make:cast, I learn about the new building for Fab Lab Tulsa from its Executive Director, Nathan Pritchett. The new building is under development and scheduled to open in 2022. The project had started well before COVID-19 but has stayed on track even during the pandemic, although any building project in 2021 faces delays because of shortages of materials. Overall, the future of Fab Lab Tulsa is bright. “I’m just really bullish on the future of fab labs and maker spaces,” said Nathan.

The current building for Fab Lab Tulsa, which opened in 2011, is a former car dealership with lots of windows. By 2015 they had simply outgrown the 3,400 sq. ft. space. By that time, Nathan and others realized that “the skills and ability of the community that uses the lab grew.” Tulsa has a lot of talent in the community but the makerspace needed more resources to keep up. “We started looking at what the right size facility would be for us and for our community,” said Nathan.

Nathan describes focusing on connecting an ecosystem that Nathan describes as pyramid; it has five segments. The ecosystem involves reaching out to the community, meeting the educational needs of students, serving its 425 members, providing workforce development opportunities and offering a launchpad for entrepreneurs. He makes the point that if you want to grow any of the constituencies, you have to grow the ecosystem, not just that constituency.

“We learned how resourceful we are,” said Nathan about Fab Lab Tulsa during COVID-19. Like many makerspaces, Fab Lab Tulsa began producing PPE. “At the local level, we also learned how valuable makers are.” Fab Lab Tulsa was able to keep its membership during the pandemic as well as the momentum for the building project.

The new building will be called the Hardesty Hub for Makers, named after donor Roger Hardesty, a local entrepreneur with a family foundation. Nathan cites broad community support in Tulsa.

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