After Accident, Sector67 Maker Space Ramps Up Operations in Rehabbed Madison Warehouse

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

When Chris Meyer was enveloped by a ball of fire in a construction accident and rushed to a Madison, WI, hospital 14 months ago, his loved ones and friends feared for his life. They also worried about the future of Sector67, the nonprofit collaborative workshop for technology development, product prototyping, and advanced manufacturing he founded in 2010.

“Most of all, we were terrified we might lose him,” says John Neis, a long-time backer and friend of Meyer who is also the executive managing director of Venture Investors, a Madison-based venture capital firm. “He was lucky to be alive.”

The 33-year-old Meyer (pictured above)—who was burned on more than 40 percent of his upper body, including his face—was hospitalized for more than a month. He received grafts of skin taken from his legs, as well as an experimental lab-made skin tissue called StrataGraft that was produced by Stratatech, a Madison company owned by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals that’s conducting clinical trials on its product.

The outpouring from the entrepreneurial community and others in support of Meyer and Sector67 was massive. During Meyer’s recovery, Sector67 board member Scott Hasse—a partner with Flexion, a Sun Prairie, WI-based software development and IT services firm—dove in and assumed Meyer’s duties at the “maker space,” which has served as a hub for local artists, technologists, and hobbyists to connect, learn, and work on projects. Meyer’s accident occurred while he was helping renovate the former Sears catalog warehouse at 56 Corry St. in northeast Madison, which Sector67 bought because it was outgrowing its then-home and needed a new space. Contractors donated their time to the renovation project, and more than $125,000 was raised to help pay Meyer’s medical expenses and keep the renovation effort close to its original schedule.

Much of that work is finished. Now, eight months after the first Sector67 building on Winnebago Street was vacated and more than a year after Meyer’s accident, Sector67 has just begun holding gatherings at the Corry Street building. And come the weekend of Nov. 17-18, the annual Build Madison event, which is dubbed a “24-hour hackathon for makers, creatives, and tinkerers,” will return—this time in Sector67’s new home.

“Things are about to start picking up [at Sector67], and I never thought things would stop with my accident,” Meyer says.

It didn’t take long for the energetic Meyer to get back to work, and he has recovered exceedingly well from the accident. He wears compression gloves on his hands and arms, which continue to heal, and Meyer was quick to show this reporter how good the grafts on his wrists looked during a recent visit. He has no obvious scarring on his face, which is remarkable because a photo taken shortly after he was burned makes it look like his entire head had been sautéed.

“Yup, I’m still as ugly as ever,” quips Meyer as he talks about the incident, which Sector67 has called a “freak accident.”

Meyer says he was injured when a steel beam fell on and punctured a propane tank, which exploded when the fuel was ignited by a spark from a forklift Meyer was using. He was erecting the beams to add a second floor to the building to bring its total square footage to nearly 20,000. (Sector67’s previous location was about 8,500 square feet, Meyer says.)

The first floor of the organization’s new space is now home to metal and wood milling machines, welding gear, laser printers, 3D printers, other equipment, classrooms, and even a hydraulic lift for working on vehicles. The second floor will contain mostly office space, but there are additional construction projects ahead.

“We’re putting up walls and finishing windows now to get things functional,” Meyer says. “However, the truth is Sector67 will forever be evolving because it’s filled with tinkerers who always will be changing and improving the space.”

Meyer says the organization was paying $50,000 a year in rent at its previous location. Because it bought the Corry Street building and paid for improvements with donations, Sector67 doesn’t have a mortgage.

“The long-term vision is to use that rent money for operations and hiring some staff and growing the organization,” Meyer says. “We’ve put down roots here, and we are trying to use our funds in better ways.”

Meyer says he’s looking forward to the major construction work being completed, so he can get back to teaching and helping others with their projects. Meyer, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Sector67’s approximately 100 members include “tinkerers, creators, dreamers, programmers, artists, and hackers” who are adept at clever reuses of items designed for other purposes.

He says the first so-called hacker space was created in the 1950s at MIT by a model railroad club in a building that no one in authority much cared about, so students and their advisors could alter it to their hearts’ content. Maker spaces have popped up all around the country in recent years, amid growing interest in technology development and entrepreneurship.

While Meyer would love to see successful companies emerge from Sector67, he says … Next Page »

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