Written by The Business Journal Staff
The Pi Shop
Education: Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Family: Married to Tammy Jackson. We are the parents of Kirstine, Emily and Thomas.
WHAT WE DO: Located in downtown Fresno’s historic Mural District, The Pi Shop’s mission is to be a business incubator providing an atmosphere for collaboration, mentorship, instruction, knowledge, innovation and support for new technology-, manufacturing- or product-oriented business ventures. A nonprofit organization, we set ourselves apart from other incubators in that our staff includes a full-time engineer in residence providing do-it-yourself engineering assistance and a specialist assisting clients with unraveling the grant-application process.
To support the product and technology-focused businesses, The Pi Shop has an 8,000-square-foot shop equipped with 3D printers, welders, conventional milling and turning machines, a laser cutting table, a 5-axis computer numerical control mill, circuit board prototype mill to make circuit boards and numerous hand and power tools. Strategic to this entire operation is our partnership with Blue Dolphin Design and Engineering, which I own. My business provides engineering, design and intelligent, rapid prototyping support. This entire space can be utilized by our members to prototype, tinker with, test and produce real-world products from their ideas.
What is your role in The Pi Shop?
As executive director, my day-to-day responsibilities include assuring that the administrative and business activities are taken care of, including getting the bills paid, setting up insurance, acquiring support services, managing team members, etc.
More importantly, I spend my time networking and reaching out to various partners and resources in the community in a tireless effort to attract the members we desire to attract and support quality members – or “producteurs,” from a melding of “product” and “entrepreneurs.”
We want partners – either individuals or organizations – who will lend their valuable expertise to our members.
How do you fund The Pi Shop?
The funding comes from member fees, generous donations as well as grants.
The Pi Shop is a nonprofit that takes no equity in its member businesses. We are a public benefit corporation.Successful members will become micro-manufacturers who will, in turn, hire employees and team members to produce their ideas and utilize local suppliers. The Pi Shop benefits the public and also relies on the public to support its endeavors.
You started an engineering firm in 1999. How did that business lead you to develop The Pi Shop?
I founded Blue Dolphin Design and Engineering, and for the past two decades Blue Dolphin has provided engineering, design and prototyping services to businesses all over the world. These projects consisted of creating machines and products for existing businesses and we also have helped hundreds of entrepreneurs to take their ideas from concepts to reality.
A couple years ago, I realized that we needed to create an entity that would help these fledgling startups to answer questions on some of the other aspects of business.
The Pi Shop exists as a place where the answers to these questions will come to the members.
What is a business incubator, and how does yours differ from others?
A hub is a center of a community that is focused on common goals. An incubator is a hub, but much more.The business incubator creates an atmosphere for collaboration, mentorship, instruction, knowledge, innovation and support to help launch those businesses.
Besides having a full-time engineer and a grant specialist on staff and the large shop, we further set ourselves apart in that we have a large work room where our members can tinker, build prototypes, test and give their ideas life.
‘The Pi Shop is a nonprofit, and you don’t require that members provide you a stake in their business. Why did you start it?
The reason I started The Pi Shop is that I saw a great need for help with entrepreneurs in the Valley.
Additionally, I believed that The Pi Shop members will establish long-lasting relationships with Blue Dolphin Engineering and our other partners that include the Coleman & Horowitt, LLP law firm; the Sesnsiba San Filippo, LLP accounting firm; and Persimmon Marketing. These relationships will help add to the customer bases of those businesses and help the success of all these partners.
What are the biggest challenges to developing a product and building a successful business from it?
When you are a startup, it always requires hard work on the part of the entrepreneur. Product-related businesses often take on an additional dimensions because of the resources required to develop the “thing” you want to produce. Often, the product must be engineered or designed for manufacturability.Often obtaining a patent is advised.Sometimes special manufacturing equipment resources must be identified or acquired. It’s very difficult as a startup to obtain the additional financing to fulfill these additional requirements. These are just some of the things that The Pi Shop offers to its members through simple monthly membership fees.
What are some ofthe businesses and products coming out of The Pi Shop?
– Drip Drop USA – A new water supply technology company utilizing atmospheric water content to create an endless supply of water.
– Davren Global – Creator of new pest-control technology that utilizes organic, non-toxic formulations to eradicate pests in nuts and other products.
What are the future plans for The Pi Shop?
Expand membership and support to make The Pi shop a globally recognized sustainable venture.