MSU Idea Shop

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By Emma Kent 

If you’ve walked down East Main Street in Starkville lately, you may have noticed a new addition to the college town’s collections of downtown stores. The Idea Shop, a project of Mississippi State University, appears to be a bright and modern retail space nestled between CURiO and Moe’s Original BBQ, but in fact, it’s a lot more than just that. 

The Idea Shop is a split-use space with retail in the front and a workshop, known as the Turner A. Wingo Maker Studio, in the back. It officially opened in March, but it’s been in the works for several years. 

It began as just the Maker Studio, a student organization founded by an MSU graduate student as a facility that gave students access to space and equipment to work on projects.  

Michael Lane, now program coordinator for the Idea Shop, joined as a member during his first semester at MSU. 

“We started off in a 250-square-foot room with not much more than hand tools,” Lane said. 

In the summer of 2018, they had the opportunity to expand and move into their current 2,000-square-foot space and become the MSU Idea Shop. 

The Idea Shop was made possible both through private support and the USDA Rural Business Development Program. It is part of the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach and operated by the university’s College of Business and School of Human Sciences.

The Idea Shop operates like a gym, where you pay a membership fee to use the space and the equipment. The space and workshop are open to MSU students, faculty and staff as well as the general public. 

In the Maker Studio, equipment is available for making prototypes and small custom orders of all kinds of items. 

The studio is equipped to help members do custom laser engraving, injection molding, 3D modeling, woodworking and metalworking. It also includes a 3D printer and computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing equipment. Some of these are advanced tools not typically easily accessible by the general public, so the Maker Studio helps bridge that gap. 

The studio is not designed to manufacture products in bulk, Lane said, but rather, it’s equipped for learning and prototyping. It offers members the chance to learn how to use the equipment involved in manufacturing certain products and how to create products efficiently. 

“When you’re learning how to design, it’s good to know the capabilities of the equipment you’re working with,” Lane said. 

For students, the Maker Studio provides a place they can work and access equipment they may need for projects at any time. 

“This gives them the chance to come down here and use labs that aren’t affiliated with specific classes,” Lane said.

The retail part of the space, named the MSU Retail Product Accelerator, was designed to give local and student start-ups and fashion retail students to experience with sales and display. The Idea Shop’s prime downtown location also gets more eyes on their products. 

“This is a fully-functional retail shop,” Lane said. 

The retail space features Mississippi-made goods like earrings from Jackson-based Ponderosa Drive and men’s personal care products from Columbus-based company Munson and Brothers. 

There are also ceramics from Brumley Studio Ceramics and bags of locally-roasted coffee from Jitterbean’s Coffee. 

You’ll also find handmade wooden items like bowls and cutting boards along with T-shirts, original art and custom cowbells. 

The products being sold in the retail space are Mississippi-made, and that’s important to the Idea Shop’s mission. 

“Our goal is to support Mississippi entrepreneurs,” Lane said.

Right now, Lane said, Idea Shop membership is made up pretty equally of both students and community members. Once college students return, he hopes to see membership grow. 

“We’ll do a big student push in August,” Lane said. 

 

Community Collaboration

 

Much like the physical space, the Idea Shop is meant to be a collaboration between the university and the community. 

Brooke Lammert, coordinator of the center for entrepreneurship and outreach, helps with bringing those entities together.  

“We’re still reaching out and trying to get to know the community better,” Lammert said. “We’re trying to build that relationship and make that connection seamless. Since the opening, a lot of our energy has been geared toward the retail side but now that we’ve gotten that up and going we’re focusing more on the workshops and outreach.”

One way the Idea Shop has begun involving the community is through workshops. The Idea Shop can host community workshops for kids and other community members to attend. In June, they hosted a workshop that allowed attendees to use the Idea Shop equipment to make Father’s Day gifts. 

“The goal for our workshops is to get people familiar with the equipment so they know what they can do,” Lane said. 

Most of the Idea Shop’s workshops will have an age requirement that participants be at least 10 years old for safety reasons. 

People in the community can work on products and ideas for their own businesses, work on projects or just get some hands-on experience using the tools and technology available at the Idea Shop. 

That’s one reason why the Idea Shop’s membership fees are kept low. Affordability is a priority, and the Idea Shop also offers a day-use rate that allows members of the community or students to pay to use the space and equipment per day for short-term projects. 

“We don’t want to lock anyone out of this,” Lammert said. “It just covers general wear and tear of the tools.” 

As the new school year gets started, Lammert hopes to connect with local schools and afterschool programs to arrange visits and workshops for students. 

“I think it’s exciting for kids and adults who haven’t had access to those tools to have that,” she said. “It’s something that they’ll leave with some skills and knowledge that they didn’t have before.”

 

 

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