Business

Imagine it, design it, build it | MakerTron Labs creates community classroom for science, technology, engineering

Damien Cortez and Andy Gilbert stand in the lobby of MakerTron Labs, their newly formed space to host classes for research and innovation. Cortez holds a model of a man made from a 3D printer, something he hopes to teach students at the lab.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Damien Cortez and Andy Gilbert stand in the lobby of MakerTron Labs, their newly formed space to host classes for research and innovation. Cortez holds a model of a man made from a 3D printer, something he hopes to teach students at the lab.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Located inside Ken’s Korner Mall is a space made to create — MakerTron Labs. It’s a community lab space for classes, research, and, above all, for making things.

For Damien Cortez, executive director of the new space, “make” is a big and all-encompassing word.

“You can make anything from a pizza to a bike,” he said. “There’s no limit to what making is.”

Wearing the white coats in the lab are Cortez and Andy Gilbert, the scientist and mind behind the space.

The two, both Clinton residents, set down roots in the Ken’s Korner location in February and are slowly refurbishing the space, while at the same time hosting an increasing number of classes for students.

In the minds of Cortez and Gilbert, the newly-acquired 10,000-foot space will foster the creation of anything from new video games to recording ferry statistics to building robots.

“I want to encourage people to know how something works and understand it from start to finish,” Gilbert said.

The space, which is a program of the non-profit South Whidbey Science Fund, was inspired by the needs of the South End community. For Gilbert, the business has come to fruition after years of planning.

“I want it to be a big collaboration,” he said. “If you can imagine it, build it.”

Friends since the second grade, both Cortez and Gilbert are 2000 graduates of South Whidbey High School. They reminisce about the early days of technology when computers were just reaching household status.

Cortez and Gilbert often used their free time at an internet cafe in Clinton spending $15 for an hour of internet use.

“That was the coolest thing at the time,” Gilbert recalled.

Gilbert studied physics at the University of Washington and later started a consulting company for Facebook.

Cortez is a maker in his own right working for many South End nonprofits, such as Good Cheer Food Bank and Ryan’s House, which are experiences he values and takes with him on this new venture.

“I’m a jack-of-all-trades,” he said.

With their combined skills, it was a perfect fit for their new business endeavor. Perhaps the only thing they were unsure of was the name.

At first they threw around countless ideas — Makerlab, Makerspace — Cortez said. Finally he thought of MakerTron, a play on Gilbert’s nickname “Gilbertron.” He texted the idea to Gilbert, but didn’t get a response back for 45 minutes. He figured Gilbert dismissed the idea like the many others.

“When I finally heard back from Andy he said, ‘I just bought all the domain names for MakerTron,’ ” Cortez laughed.

The two then found a space snuggled between Clinton and Langley and began renovating.

Already excitement for the lab is building at Langley Middle School, where Gilbert hosts a coding club for students twice a week. Gilbert teaches the computer language JavaScript through a game students all know and love, Minecraft, he said. 

Gilbert received good feedback from teachers, who told him the students are working together more and are excited about the classes.

“It’s learning without realizing it,” Cortez added.

Gilbert sees coding as a growing industry on the island and wants to create a space for that industry to operate with MakerTron.

Gilbert said the next generation of manufacturing is not going to be creating things overseas, but assembling things here. To do that requires knowledge of how to put things together and how to use the tools available, which Gilbert hopes to encourage at MakerTron.

The space will be available to rent out to individuals and groups. They will also offer memberships for people to have full access to equipment.

“It can be a place to make a prototype to design and create a product here,” Cortez said with enthusiasm.

And it’s not just a place for students. Gilbert and Cortez hope to see a lot of support from the community.

“The idea has grown so much since we started,” Cortez said. “It would be an injustice to leave the community out.”

Starting June 17, MakerTron will host repair nights on Tuesdays for people to come with their broken devices to see if it can be repaired or repurposed. It’s a free service and a way to introduce people to the new business.

“I want to demystify this for people,” he said.

This is a community space, and if people have skills they want to share with others then this is the place to do it,” Gilbert said.

 

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