Image: The Rivet

What do the Pebble smartwatch, Square mobile payment device and Lumio artsy book lamp have in common? On the surface, they seem very diverse. Pebble broke records as the most funded Kickstarter campaign when it raised $10.3 million in 2012, Square revolutionized mobile money transfer and is now valued at $3 billion, and Lumio holds court in MoMA’s elite design store. 

But their origins bind them together. Each of these highly successful products were prototyped in a makerspace. 

Makerspaces provide equipment and space for people of all ages to build prototypes, explore questions, fail and retry, bounce ideas off one another and build something together.

And for Happy Valley’s makerspace The Rivet, that means creating a space where innovators have access to tools, space and collaboration that can turn their ideas into actuality.

“I think of it like a library,” says programs and facilities coordinator Camille Sogin. “The Rivet provides a certain service that you just can’t find anywhere else. Ordinarily, community members might not have access to an industrial laser cutter or welding tools, or a 3-D printer. How do you know if you would want to pursue something as a new career or hobby if you’ve never been able to try it? How can you prototype a new idea if you don’t have access to the specialized tools? We can make it possible.”

“If you didn’t have access to the tools within the college, you’d have to send your concept away to be prototyped for you. That’s expensive, and takes time. At The Rivet, we have space, tools and expertise, all at a relatively low cost. By providing that service, we fit really well into the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Until The Rivet opened its doors earlier this year, Camille says that it was very difficult to prototype a new product unless you were already associated with the Engineering College at Penn State. “If you didn’t have access to the tools within the college, you’d have to send your concept away to be prototyped for you. That’s expensive, and takes time. At The Rivet, we have space, tools and expertise, all at a relatively low cost. By providing that service, we fit really well into the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The Early Days: Kickstarting a new space, and jumping in to fill COVID needs

The Rivet is the brainchild of Michele Crowl and Camille Sogin, who, along with other innovators in the community, saw a need for a collaborative workshop in Happy Valley. After getting “an amazing amount of support” from donors and a $100,000 grant, The Rivet opened its doors in January 2020. 

“It was amazing,” Camille remembers. “We had 250 people at the launch party, which now sounds like an astronomical number.” Just six weeks after the much-anticipated launch, though, the Rivet was forced to close its doors for the Pennsylvania-wide COVID shutdown. 

“We were reeling,” she says. “And at the same time, we felt so strongly that we had to do something. Anything. We had all these innovators and all this great equipment. We had to do something to help.” 

The makerspace soon became involved with the MASC Initiative, a collaborative effort headed up by Penn State that 3D-printed PPEs and other equipment desperately needed by the medical community in the early days of COVID. The Rivet worked with Actuated Medical to produce PPEs and collect community-made PPEs and distribute them. 

“It was a great opportunity to learn from each other and work together to fill such a critical need,” Camille says. “It was a great picture of community activism and people really coming together.” 

All told, more than a thousand PPEs were either made at The Rivet or produced by the maker community in private homes, and dropped off for distribution. 

Grassroots Local Manufacturing

In June, The Rivet reopened for classes. “Since the spring, we’ve learned more about how to be safe during COVID,” Camille says. “We provide open space with lots of ventilation, small class sizes, masks and sanitizing. Staying at home is safe, and I feel like we are a pretty good next step. It’s nice to be out, and be able to create in a safe space.”

The workshop offers day passes and monthly passes to use 3-D modeling computers, a circuitry station, plastics lab, textile studio, machine shop and more. 

“It’s a really great place to experiment,” Camille says about the workshop. “It’s local manufacturing at its most elemental form, connecting a community of makers. You can explore potentials for a new career, find a new hobby or just try something fun.” 

Or, you might just use the space to ideate the next Square, Pebble smartwatch or Lumio book light. As The Rivet’s slogan says: make anything. To learn more about The Rivet’s classes and how to utilize the extensive makerspace, go to The Rivet.org.