Menlo Park loses an innovation space as TechShop relocates to San Carlos

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When the warehouse-style building on Independence Drive is demolished, as planned, the physical traces of one of Menlo Park’s most important incubators for tech entrepreneurs will be gone.

But the legacy of TechShop Menlo Park, of the ideas and businesses hatched there, won’t be forgotten anytime soon. It was the space where Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey first developed Square, the platform enabling businesses to accept debit and credit card payments through a mobile device. “They had the opportunity to quickly build a prototype, and they just came and did it. It was that straightforward,” said TechShop Manager Raffie Colet. Founded in 2009, Square now has a team of investors that includes Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Twitter’s Biz Stone, Sequoia Capital, Visa and Starbucks.

Other TechShop alumni include the founders of Embrace, a low-cost infant warmer for vulnerable babies in developing countries; and of Dodocase, which sells U.S.-made iPad and iPhone cases, laptop sleeves, wallets and folios.

TechShop Menlo Park, which defined itself as a “membership-based, do-it-yourself workshop studio” for entrepreneurs, has found a new home in San Carlos, where the company plans to stay for at least the next year while searching for a permanent location with proximity to San Francisco. The name has been changed to TechShop Mid-Peninsula.

Entrepreneurs who benefit from TechShop’s equipment and classes are not required to give TechShop shares of their companies, which makes it different from many other innovation centers. The members pay a monthly or yearly fee.

“You can be in your garage working by yourself and trying to figure it out with whatever the knowledge and tools you have,” Colet said, “or you can come to TechShop and be surrounded by experts.”

Located in northern Menlo Park from 2006 until its recent move, the company went through a public battle to find a new location, including a crowdfunding campaign that almost failed. Only $24,091 were raised from donors, but a last-minute, $250,000 donation from Intel rescued the campaign. “We were on a month-to-month lease with the landlord for quite a while, and he was great. He had plans to redevelop it and we were aware of that, but we thought we had more time,” Colet said.

Menlo Park’s new mayor, Ray Mueller, called TechShop’s departure a “tremendous loss” for the city. Mueller is interested in creating a local commission to explore ways to make Menlo Park more friendly to the small businesses.

While known far and wide as the new home of Facebook, Menlo Park doesn’t want to loose track of its smaller players, Mueller added. “It’s a good thing that our larger businesses are doing well, but this also puts some pressure in our smaller ones because the rents go up,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that spirit of innovation.”

Menlo Park is the original home of TechShop, which now has six locations across the United States. The company has 120 full-time employees and nearly 6,000 active members. About 850 of them are part of the former TechShop Menlo Park. “I have a personal love for this beat-up old location, and lots of our members love it despite its blemishes,” said Jim Newton, the founder of TechShop’s crowdfunding website.

“We didn’t lose anyone in the transition and the Menlo Park members are actually happy to come here,” Colet said of the San Carlos space, which is six miles from the old location. “Geographically, this [San Carlos] is almost the exact center between our San Jose location and San Francisco. It’s where we should be. Demographically, it’s also where we should be because it gives us access to people coming from East Bay, Burlingame and South San Francisco.”

TechShop has plans to get in touch with the local art community, according to Colet. “We are going to bring a lot of energy to the community, and we have people [who] want to rent more space around here,” he said.

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