Things are getting mighty crowded at Danbury Hackerspace, the downtown, community-oriented workspace that connects individuals looking to learn or collaborate on projects.
So crowded, in fact, that it’s looking to move out of its cramped, 3,500-square-foot space within the Danbury Innovation Center at 158 Main St. and into a larger space. According to co-founder Mike Kaltschnee, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has its eye on a couple of empty buildings nearby, including one 30,000-square-foot facility.
“We need a 2,000-square-foot wood shop and a 2,000-square-foot metal shop, and that’s just for starters,” Kaltschnee said, noting that the current space also includes nine 3-D printers, several Bridgeport milling machines, a laser router and numerous other pieces of equipment both light and heavy, not to mention dozens of tools and inventions in varying stages of completion.
The Hackerspace also offers coworking space, though Kaltschnee said that tends to take a back seat to its main purpose as a business incubator.
Since forming 6 1/2 years ago, the Hackerspace has been host to a number of inventors who have made their dreams realities. Those include Noteworthy Chocolates, which engraves messages and designs onto chocolate molded into various sizes, from business cards to certificates, located in Bethel; SkyFlix, a New York City-based manufacturer of in-flight private entertainment systems for private jets that can store up to four terabytes of solid-state storage — enough room for over a thousand movies; and Luke’s Toy Factory.
“We specialize in creative collisions,” Kaltschnee grinned. “People come in, bounce ideas off of each other, help each other. It’s really a cooperative, collaborative space.”
Not every idea ends up flying, he said, recalling one would-be inventor who’d developed an idea for converting back-mounted leaf blowers into machines that could melt snow. That idea failed on two fronts: the inventor hadn’t properly copyrighted his idea, and a Hackerspace attorney noted that the result would create ice rather than simply removing snow.
The Hackerspace also hosts regular meetups, its annual STEAM Fair & Robotics Expo and weekly open houses on Thursdays to further encourage the exchange of ideas and advice. Membership costs $50 per month, $25 for students.
A Danbury native and resident, Kaltschnee said he intends the Hackerspace to stay in the city. “A lot of people still don’t think of Danbury as a hub,” he said, “but downtown especially is growing.”
In addition, he said that Mayor Mark Boughton was an early supporter of the Hackerspace — even before Kaltschnee had fully explained it — and that community support has been extraordinary.
Stanley and The Home Depot have been instrumental in supporting it with money and equipment and the Hackerspace’s central location — the building also includes SCORE Mentors Western Connecticut and the Western Connecticut office of the Small Business Development Center, and is adjacent to the city’s public library — has created an innovation hub. It is located within the Danbury Innovation Center.
“People like the idea,” Kaltschnee said. “When we started there were something like 200 hackerspaces around the country. Now there’s over 2,000.”
To its credit, the Danbury Hackerspace has expanded as well. “They’re bursting at the seams, which is great to see,” said Betsy Paynter, executive director of redevelopment agency CityCenter Danbury.
“I grew up here,” Kaltschnee said, “and the Hackerspace has grown up here, too. But what we need now is something like a warehouse, to contain everything we should have — including adequate storage.”