Groover Labs is a concept that takes elements from tech centers like Boston and Silcon Valley and brings that start-up vibe to Wichita, Ks with a space that includes activities for business start-ups, the arts, technology, co-working space, hot seats, classrooms and events. We talked with the founders of the labs, Curt Gridley and Tracy Hoover in the podcast.
Curt Gridley, a native of Kansas and his wife, software engineer Tracy Hoover says that when they lived in the Boston area, they were immersed in emerging technologies and start-ups. “You would go to the grocery store and be surrounded by people talking about their latest tech start-up, it was pretty cool.”
In the podcast, Curt tells the story of, while working in Boston realizing a simple messaging switch that was the size of a refrigerator could be reduced in size and cost, leading to the establishment of Amber Wave Systems, a venture-backed Boston startup that he sold to US Robotics for $50 million.
They now hope to foster that kind of atmosphere in Wichita with Groover Labs, a nonprofit opening soon in the former Printing Inc. building at Third and St. Francis.
Groover Labs is a 42,000 square foot co-working center and maker space near the Old Town section of Wichita. Old Town is known for being a bit edgy and includes many of the start-up featured on Saunders and Cash. Many in Wichita feel that Old Town is the neighborhood that sits as the anchor of the startup revival we have been seeing in Wichita over the past year.
The two co-founders want Groover Labs to be a place where entrepreneurs take ideas from concept to market. While Wichita has other maker spaces like the expanding MakeICT and GoCreate spaces, Groover Labs will be the only one to focus on product prototyping.
“Some but not all of these things are available at other maker spaces”, Gridley and Hoover say. MakeICT and GoCreate “definitely fill a niche in the community,” Hoover says.
Wichita has existing maker spaces — and both Curt and Tracy have been involved with them. They are eager to build on that and offer a place where people can take ideas from concept to market — something that’s not really being done right now in Wichita
Tracy says Groover Labs isn’t about taking anything away from those places. They really want to add to the capacity in Wichita to be a place where collaboration and creation happens. What the founders are hoping to do is grow a culture at Groover Labs where anyone with heart and drive has the opportunity to innovate.
Prototyping is a key part of the discovery process in innovation for many tech start-ups. It is typically the third step behind ideation, design, and then prototype.
Many startup ecosystems struggle to build growing companies because they lack the ability to build physical prototypes cheaply. Groover Labs fill an important role in the development of startup ecosystems – providing space and expertise in building the first, flawed product.
Groover Labs is more than a prototyping space, it will offer hotseats, dedicated work space, private offices and 14,000 square feet of maker space including electronics shop, a CNC mill, a CNC plasma table, a stable of 3D printers and a wood shop with a CNC router table and more.
The Groover Labs team also offers a 275-person event center, and Wichita State University’s student-operated art gallery, ShiftSpace, has moved in. The event space will be utilized for community space and available for rent. Two classrooms for all sorts of seminars and educational events is also part of the space as is a board room and meeting room spaces.
In the podcast, we sat down with the founders of Groover Labs learned more about their backgrounds, careers and the motivation for starting the space, with the intention of making it a diverse set of working spaces that can be the seed to grow businesses.
Tracy grew up in New Jersey and after college, worked as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard. More recently she has taught music at Wichita State.
The founders want to create a place to fuel collaboration and product development. They hope Groover Labs, with co-working and maker space labs as well as event space, will create a community that not only encourages people to learn new skills but also take risks and launch startups.
Curt, who grew up in Kansas, went to college here. Curt and Tracy moved back to Wichita in 2005 after careers in the Boston area, because they wanted to be closer to family and they valued the lifestyle in Wichita.
Curt talked about the desire to bustling technology community where members contribute to and celebrate each other’s wins. He especially wants to help teams start successful Kickstarter campaigns, and see members huddled together working out solutions and figurative making sparks in the fab lab, electric, metal and wood shops.
The goal is to create a community where everyone at Groover Labs feels invested in a community of inventors, innovators and start-ups.
At Groover Labs, the goal is to make sure people are meeting like-minded folks who understand that the startup culture is not limited to the coasts. And some people might even re-locate to Wichita to work in the labs, as they create their products, Conserve your startup capital by doing your initial product development here. Groover Labs is in an Opportunity Zone, which opens up funding sources for startups that make their home at Groover Labs.
Groover Labs is an excellent addition to the Wichita startup scene. To discover more about the company, check out its website at www.grooverlabs.org.
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