Protohaven is fundraising to create a new space for displaced TechShop members

Memberships are now available.

Devin Montgomery, co-founder of Protohaven, speaks at a fundraising launch for the nonprofit.

Devin Montgomery, co-founder of Protohaven, speaks at a fundraising launch for the nonprofit.

mj slaby / the incline
MJ Slaby

Update, Dec. 1: In an email to members, Protohaven announced that it secured a Wilkinsburg location: 214 N Trenton Ave. 

To launch fundraising, Protohaven plans to do what its members did when starting their businesses — start with grassroots efforts.

On Monday, roughly 50 people attended a fundraising launch for the nonprofit maker space poised to replace TechShop. Although the meeting at KerfCase Studio was planned before TechShop’s abrupt closing Wednesday, the lack of tools and space added urgency to the meeting.

“We’re now without a shop,” Protohaven Co-Founder Devin Montgomery told the group. “We don’t want to wait too long. … [We] have to find a way to move forward now.”

But, he said, Protohaven doesn’t need all of its funds upfront. Instead, the plan is to start small, getting members before a building.

As for its first goal, Montgomery said: “What I’m asking is for 250 people to take an $85 bet this month and take that same bet next month.”

Protohaven will rely heavily, if not completely, on TechShop’s former members. As of Monday, the nonprofit had more than 100 founding members who’ve donated at least $30. As of this summer, TechShop had between 400 and 500 members, per staff.

With 250 general members, Protohaven would likely be able to secure a space by the end of the year and be in and using it, with minimal equipment, in January 2018, he said, adding that the nonprofit is looking at several locations, including in Wilkinsburg.

Memberships and donations are open on the Protohaven website. It plans to offer income-based discounts and memberships at different levels based on the time someone spends in the shop, Montgomery said.

The new nonprofit, according to its website, will have four major differences from TechShop: a civic and inclusive focus, equipment that matches makers’ needs, more private workspace and storage, and more advanced classes.

Attendees stressed the need for Protohaven, saying that TechShop created a community that is now without a space.

Melissa Frost, owner of Frost Finery, attended Monday’s meeting and said while she has her own workshop, she still used TechShop’s tools from time to time for her jewelry business. The shop’s early closure was a setback that could have been worse as she heads into the holiday season.

“I feel lucky that I will be OK,” she said, adding that other small businesses weren’t as lucky.

Protohaven was founded in August by Montgomery, a TechShop member and Gadsden Merrill, a TechShop employee, but planning started earlier in the summer when TechShop corporate announced that it was closing the Larimer location. Members learned in late May that TechShop Pittsburgh was closing and started meeting weekly to find a way keep some form of the shop open. TechShop’s planned closing was extended twice to Nov. 30. But on Wednesday, members found the shop closed 15 days early when the overarching TechShop company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The first focus was to ensure makers had the tools they needed to complete projects, said Joel Johnson, a TechShop advocate and chair of Protohaven’s board.

HackPGH met Thursday to help makers find tools in their space and others to complete their projects. PGHToolSwap also formed on Reddit as a space for people to loan, rent, trade or sell tools.