The Possible Project, an entrepreneurship program for students, opened a brand new workshop in Cambridge Thursday, just across the road from Technology Square. It’s the latest in a clutch of so-called “makerspaces” that are training middle school and high school students (not to mention adults) in design, building, and business skills.
The new 1,800-square-foot workshop has exposed ceilings, neon green walls, adds to the program’s co-working space at 955 Mass. Ave. It’s one of growing number of makerspaces in the area where people can gain access to high-tech equipment like 3-D printers, laser cutters, and scanners. In particular, Central Square seems to be the ground zero of our local makerspace nation: in addition to the Possible Project’s new site, Cambridge Hackspace, Danger!Awesome, and NuVu Studio all exist within a few blocks of each other.
The idea is that students can start small businesses, designing and making custom products like personalized keychains or T-shirts, and use the suite of pricey industrial tools — including a laser cutter, a spray-painting booth that absorbs excess paint fumes, and a MakerBot printer and scanner duo — to cut down their production costs.
“We designed it to be as flexible and durable as possible,” said David Selles, the maker space education coordinator at The Possible Project. For example, the rough butcher block tables on wheels can be sanded down if they are damaged by paint or glue.
The program was founded in 2010 by venture capitalist Mark Levin of Third Rock Ventures and his wife Becky, with the goal of giving disadvantaged students business and workshop experience after school. In May last year, local biotech Biogen Idec invested $500,000 in the program.
“We have a lot of scientists here who know from their own personal experience that it was the hands-on experience that they had at some point in their education that ignited the spark” that made they become scientists, said Tony Kingsley, who oversees the Biogen Idec Foundation.
Students can start their own small businesses, or join the two that the program already has running: As a member of Cambridge Made Possible, students sell crafts like T-shirts or keychains. Also, as a part of We Sell Possible, students can find buyers for items donated to the program, like laptops or other electronics, on forums like Amazon.
“We’re looking for kids that could use an extra leg up, an extra opportunity,” said Jacey Buel, Entrepreneurship Educational Director at The Possible Project.
The opening of the workshop coincides with the launch of the spring session next week, in which 157 students from Cambridge public schools are enrolled.
Girls are a little over 60 percent of last year’s cohort, and from the business perspective, that group is “by far the most successful,” Buel said. Of the ten “market place” events that the program held last year — open house sessions where students compete to sell their wares — winners of nine of the events were girls.
For example, ManeTain was started by a quartet of teens and sells organic hair care products tailored for African-American women. It’s grown to become The Possible Project’s most profitable business of 2014. “They’ve done an amazing job promoting the business on Instagram, Twitter, social media, so it’s taken on a life of its own,” Buel said.
Case Closed, which makes customized metal cases for smartphones, and Living Essentials Candles, which designs scented candles that emit food flavors, are other businesses run by girls who’ve won the marketplace events in the past.
“A place like the Possible Project has an incredible capacity and vision for both makers and non-makers,” said Nadeem Mazen, a Cambridge city councilor and co-founder of Danger!Awesome. “We want the kids to have agency over their own economic and educational outcomes, but they need to be involved in making and entrepreneurship hands-on.”