TechShop Chandler – the maker space for small business owners, hobbyists and students throughout the East Valley – may have a new lease on life after unexpectedly closing on Nov. 15 in the wake of a bankruptcy announcement by its parent company.
Dan Rasure, a Kansas resident with a background in manufacturing, is in talks with the parent company to purchase the entire entity, which includes 10 TechShop locations across the country.
“I have met with the TechShop board several times and have an agreement in principal, but there are outstanding issues with landlords and agreements such as with ASU, and we will need to have some level of understanding and resolution before we can proceed,” Rasure said.
If the deal goes through, Rasure plans to continue operating the facilities under the TechShop name for the time being.
He also plans to continue operating a for-profit business model, something current TechShop CEO Dan Woods said was unsustainable in his official statement on the company’s bankruptcy.
“It is my personal opinion that the model of TechShop, while it had some flaws, was actually good,” Rasure said. “The issues faced were not on local side but elsewhere; the actual local shops did fairly well.”
TechShop Chandler is located within the ASU Chandler Innovation Center in a building owned by the city of Chandler and leased to ASU. Because of this existing relationship, Rasure is hesitant to move forward with the purchase without at least tacit support from ASU and the city.
“This (Chandler) facility is critical to the decision to buy TechShop or not,” Rasure said. “It is one of the better locations they had. It is a larger, newer facility with room to expand.”
Due to the surprise nature of the bankruptcy announcement – ASU found out about it only a half an hour before the closure – Rasure did not speak with university officials about his plans until a scheduled call on Nov. 21.
Little was resolved in the call, though.
ASU made an attorney available to speak to Rasure but no university officials were on the call, he said.
Rasure flew into the Valley on Nov. 21 for a meeting between ASU, Chandler and TechShop members.
Ji Mi Choi, ASU associate vice president for the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, led the meeting along with Chandler Economic Development Director Micah Miranda.
Choi expressed sympathy for those displaced by the TechShop closure at the meeting and said that the university is still examining every possible outcome to the situation, though it is still too early to make any promises about the space’s future.
That meeting featured numerous heartfelt testimonies from users about its importance – including from Hacienda Healthcare’s Tom Burick, who used the space to run a program for young autistic adults.
Burick ran about 80 percent of his program out of TechShop. He emphasized that its importance extended beyond the physical space as numerous employees, instructors and members provided support and instruction to the young adults he works with.
“This means a great, great, great deal to us,” Burick said.
One of the young men Burick works with, who only would identify himself as Ryan, said he used TechShop to create gifts for his mother during a difficult period in their lives.
“TechShop to me is everything,” Ryan said. “We don’t have these tools where we work; this is it.”
Rasure said even if he buys TechShop, the space’s future “would go through a new vetting process” because the university “does not trust TechShop as an entity.”
The situation is further complicated by the status of the parent company. Initially, TechShop stated that it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and published an email address for a trustee for concerned parties to contact.
However, the company has yet to actually file, Choi said at the meeting.
This uncertainty further complicates the university’s ability to respond to the closure, and ASU’s counsel currently is in talks with TechShop lawyers.
In the meantime, actual TechShop members – including small business owners preparing for the holiday rush – are scrambling to find resources to complete their work.
James White, a disabled veteran who builds medieval-style style chairs, has a woodshop at home but is hesitant to use it in case he falls while alone. TechShop provided a safe and welcoming environment for him to work.
“It’s not just the facilities and not just the machines; it’s the community,” White said, receiving a standing ovation from the other TechShop users who were at the meeting.