By Dale Dougherty
July 9, 2022
0:00 / 17:15

We really think that the next generation manufacturing is the foundation of our work here at Humanmade. It's really allowed for us to continue operating a Makerspace in the Bay Area.


I'm here with Ryan Spurlock, who is the head of Humanmade in San Francisco. And Ryan, just tell us about yourself.


Hi, my name is Ryan Spurlock. I'm the founder and executive director of Humanmade here in San Francisco. And we are very proud to be on the show today with you, Dale.

So for those who don't know Humanmade is a San Francisco based non-profit. That is essentially part Makerspace, part advanced manufacturing trainer center and part career exposure program for youth.


How did you get into making personally and tell us about the connections that got you into this?


I was always a creative kid, liked art, liked drawing. Wasn't your example student. Got a lot of D's, got a lot of non passing grades. But oddly, all of the things that, I was shunned for as a child are all the qualities that have allowed me to be successful and as a founder.

With that said I like to joke that I had the first laser cutter when I was a kid. When I was 13, I asked for a wood burning kit, which my parents at the time thought was quite weird. Or a rock Tumblr things that I could do to be creative and make things always drawing to a fault, one would say, or at least my teachers would say. I guess I was around in my twenties, late twenties, when I heard of this place called TechShop that a couple friends worked at, and I was asked if I was interested in applying. I actually got the original offer and laughed. And I was like I thought this was a tech company. But with that said, my goal to work at TechShop was, I wanted to be part of community.

I wanted to take the skillset that I learned as an industrial design student at San Francisco State and really foster them and grow them and allow me to have the experience to get a job in the industry. As a result of taking the job there, I fell in love with the maker movement and the model as a whole. When I started, I'll never forget, I show up to work that first day and I see a bike get chucked over the side of the building. And three guys look over the side and go, yeah, it made it. And they were testing a bamboo bike and that was kind my, my indoctrination into the community. What is this place that I'm going to?

And then slowly but surely I started out at a pretty low- level, front- desk position, just hoping to get access, to use the tools, to run my own business and make some money off of the ShopBot. At the time I was making science for some folks that I knew. I saw some low hanging fruit. I saw that there was an opportunity to grow the education department.

I always saw the maker movement as an education center and that offered membership versus kind of a TechShop model that we were a membership based organization that offered training.


It was an early lesson of TechShop, I think that, I forget the ratio, but let's just say a third of the people that came in TechShop had some project, they knew what they wanted to do, but the other two thirds showed up, wanted to be part of the community, wanted to do something, but they didn't really have the skills or the background to do it.

And so education, if it was gonna be effective would make that membership worthwhile to them.


Yeah that's true. And, we try to really take that mindset and push that forth on our goals here at Humanmade. I truly believe that if you can get somebody trained up to not just, get checked off to use the equipment, but actually have some foundational understanding of what can be done with that equipment and then follow up sessions to help them actually better themselves. You're investing the person in the community that way. If you talk to 10 people, maybe half or shy about something they want to make, but everyone has an idea of something they wanna make. Everyone has something they've always wanted to build. Allowing for that to come to light through education is really the foundation of our goals here.


The example of TechShop was, you probably personally, that organization got, nobody really knew if there was a demand for this. Or there was a lot of people that would use something like this, it was speculative, but when you see the different kinds of people it attracted and what their different goals were, where they were coming from, what their background was , it did make you believe that this is something that could be available or should be available to lots of people. Not just a few.


Yeah. We often say that if Makerspaces were as accessible as libraries, what would the impact be on the American society as a whole? How would it affect manufacturing? How would it further promote entrepreneurship and the startup culture that we're famous for here in Silicon valley?


But one of the products of Silicon valley culture is failure. I don't really want to dwell on that here and now because it gave you an opportunity to do something after TechShop, didn't it?


Yeah. When TechShop closed, we wanted to take all of the great things that we learned through TechShop and really some of the things that we learned that weren't so great and try to address them in this future model. So really from our inception, our mission was to really distinguish Humanmade from the traditional Makerspace or even workforce development models we've seen in the past.

My goal was really to create a really diverse ecosystem that supported manufacturing, where companies can come and create a startup or create hardware affordably. But also come back to really hire a well trained and qualified employee to fill these roles.


So how did you create the structure of Humanmade?


When TechShop closed in 2017, I think it was November 15th or 16th. There was a kind of a shock to all of us and very quickly despite not having anything to do with kind of the corporate decisions that led to it, I was the face here regionally of the organization, and I had a lot of folks reaching out. They weren't happy, they lost their place to run their business or to find a creative outlet. While I had never had any intention of being a founder or a CEO, I always felt comfortable kind of in the logistics backend, managerial side of things, making the organization run well in San Francisco.

I felt a responsibility because of the quick closure. So I quickly started to create conversations with individuals in the community who were interested in spinning something up and, or supporting us here. Around that time, I had the opportunity to meet a group of individuals from SKS Partners who are developers here in San Francisco who were working on launching a project at One De Haro, which is right across the street from us here.

And as part of that entitlement that they're trying to get, they had to fulfill a community benefit with the city. These are legislations put in place so that developers can provide something back in spaces and communities where they're taking up space and building out their projects.

So that is the Cohen legislation. The Cohen legislation required them to create something that was community benefit. So for several years they tried to come up with some ideas and pitch them through planning. And I think the feedback was we need something a little more thought out, something a little more well baked.

And so at the same time, I was trying to spin up a Humanmade and it was not a Humanmade was not the name at that time. I don't think we had one. I was introduced to the gentleman over at SKS Partners who worked with me to, help support me, putting together a really cohesive and impactful business plan and which we presented to the City of San Francisco's planning and the city then approved the project with the intent for Humanmade to build the first facility in the design district here in San Francisco.


And what was the timeframe on that?


I guess we started working on the business plan pretty much almost instantaneously. I think I was linked up with SKS developers around January. So 2018 we pitched the idea, got approved through planning, started to do the incorporation and fundraising component of the project.

And we were, obviously, given some initial capital from SKS Partners as well. And I guess it took all and all from idea to launch. I think we launched in June/July of 2019, so a little over a year and a half, I would say to actually make it happen. And it's funny. I was so green when I first started, I thought, it was gonna happen much faster.

I thought fundraising would happen much quicker. So some of our early successes created this idea in my head that it was gonna be much easier than it actually was in the end.


It was hard.


Very hard.


And so you opened this placeabout nine months before the pandemic. Is that about right?


Yeah, exactly nine months. And it was, it was tough. We had created this model that we were gonna rely heavily on the earned income models that we knew how to run and manage. We also were gonna take two to three years to really learn what it meant to be a nonprofit and run as a nonprofit.

And that means grant writing development, contract management, and all of that stuff is something that we did not have experience in. So the pandemic essentially forced me to overnight start to pursue that model. So we had five ways in which we generated income prior to the pandemic: membership, training, team building, managed services and then also some of the fabrication work that we do laser cutting, things like that. And then that was gone overnight. And my board at the time said what an incredible opportunity for a young founder to learn how to navigate the challenges of launching a new business.


That was kind of them.


Yeah. And they weren't wrong, it was harsh feedback. A lot of folks would've assumed we would've just shuttered and closed doors. And there was times that I thought, how are we gonna do this? And much what we mentored many of the makers who came through the movement in the past, getting up every day, trying, working your ass off to make it happen.

Going and talking to everyone who may be interested and really, leaning on the resources that were already in place to launch a program like this.


To be clear, you were able to get the money together to do the build out.




I recall visiting right around the time you were just starting to get some of those rooms up and running. And, you shift from that to a budget where you're expecting revenue to come in to help finish spaces. And, I dunno if it's complete the build out, but, partly the build out is dependent on the use cases in the space. The pandemic kind of hits at a really critical time for you.


Yeah. And so we were lucky enough to not just have the facility already paid for at launch, but we also worked with a local community bank here cVCC to provide us with some state secured funds. So we also got a $1. 3 million loan in addition to the build out that allowed us to secure the equipment, hire the staff and really launch the business prior to the pandemic.


And so how did you ride through the pandemic then?




Cause you weren't open, were you?


So we closed for around three months. And we were very lucky that we were able to reopen for essential workers. We shifted to doing what a lot of the Makerspace did helping create PPE for local hospitals and face masks and stuff like that. The City allowed us to continue running our training program because we had pre-arranged hiring opportunities with the partners that we work with throughout the Bay Area.

So if we were just a regular standard training program and we did not have the workforce or job placement component, we would've probably, closed down like many of the other schools. So we were close for around three months. We relaunched. We resumed our next generation manufacturing training program which we should jump in and talk about that as well.

But yeah, it was jumping straight into grant writing, obviously applying for PPP which is quite interesting because, I think, throughout the rest of the country, that was a resource that really kept people going for several months. But here the cost of doing anything is so high, that it was less than a month of overhead for an organization.


So let's talk about the specific programs that you developed, the training programs, and this is really unique.


Humanmade launched the next generation manufacturing training program. And that program is a 12-week program with two distinct offerings. At the moment we offer additive manufacturing or 3d printing technician training or CNC operator or 2.5 D milling training.

We really wanted to eliminate traditional barriers like financial resources or that you find through formal education or that individuals often face when trying to gain entering into the manufacturing technology sector. And I think it's important to say that is that, I think there's this preconceived notion of what a manufacturing facility is, and that is long gone.

If you look at your standard kind of small job shop manufacturing, fab shop here in the City, contract manufacturer, it is a very high end tech-driven facility. And we wanted to not only get folks the foundational skills to apply for entry level careers in those organizations, but also build the mindset for them to be successful with what will be required for all of us here in the future. And as that is really the future of learning, constantly kind of reassessing, reevaluating and growing one skillset to meet the needs of the industry.


So it's a 12 week program, you said? Yeah. 12


weeks. Which doesn't seem like a long time.


Yeah, I was gonna say, how do you do all that in 12 weeks?


Think about your traditional college experience, you go for the first two years for your foundational math, English, all the stuff you have to knock out before you start to focus on your major. In that major, you have two years to do, let's say an industrial design program. Through my experience, which I had a really good experience at San Francisco State University's industrial design program with Martin Linder, who was my mentor. But with that said, it was often quite hard to get in the shops. There was one shop --it was actually supported and fundraised by the instructors, by the professors themselves, which is quite interesting. We allow individuals to have hands-on in-shop time from the moment they come into the course. So they're actually getting more hands on-the-job style training than one would get in a formal two-year program.


And what age range are your applicants?


So it's been from 18 to I think I think 70 was




the individuals who's coming to the program.


So career Sometimes called vocational rehabilitation and other things as well as first job kind of prospects as well.


Yeah, that's correct. So upskilling is our focus these days and individuals that come through our program, 70% to 80%, and these statistics change throughout the year with different cohorts coming in and out, are what one would consider traditionally underserved, which means they make less in the median income here in the Bay Area.

30% to 50% have been women. We have between seven and 30% of the individuals in the program considered themselves LGBTQ. We have roughly 80% people of color or BiPOC. So through this work that we're doing here in the Bay Area, we're slowly not only providing entry level or a foot in the door to these kind of sectors, but we're slowly shaping the face of manufacturing here, at least in, in the Bay Area.


How are you working with some of these places that offer jobs? The sort of manufacturing, tech jobs that you're talking about?


We have direct relationship with over a hundred employers throughout the Bay Area. Not only are we working with them for successful placement and, obviously interview opportunities for our participants, but really understanding from them what we need to focus on as far as skill sets for our community..

So when we originally launched the two first cohorts, we looked at what people were hiring for throughout the Bay Area. We had direct conversations with folks throughout the Bay Area. We ultimately chose CNC and 3D printing now. The tool is important, obviously, but it comes secondary to the CAD and the cam and the vocabulary that one would learn in a space like a Makerspace or a manufacturing shop.

So while someone does leave with a skillset to run a CNC machine, they may go into a job doing CAD drawing, or they may go into a quality control job or an assembly technician. But they have the skillset to understand what the company is doing, how they can grow into that role as they start.


So you mentioned two cohorts. What's the size of those cohorts roughly?


So we have around 15 individuals per cohort. We run one in the morning here and one in the evening here. We need to make sure that our cohorts are accessible to those who are working during the day or working during the evening. While hard skills are the focus of what we promote in our next generation manufacturing training.

I've learned very quickly in the last two or three years, that soft skills, barrier mitigation, are the true key to our success here in the program. Over the course of the last few years, we actually have in class case managers with psychology backgrounds to help actually build out individual smart goals for folks that directly address the challenges that have either led them here or will lead them to being unsuccessful after we complete the program.


There's certainly the need for a lot more people to have this kind of training. And you are also open to the community as well to come in and use the space?


That is correct. So if are an individual who would like to access just training or classes or workshops, or just come to the facility as a member. Jump on our website, you could pay a monthly membership fee. You could pay for an individual class. If you're interested in the workforce development training program, you can go to our website and go to our next generation manufacturing page, apply directly there.

We really think that the next generation manufacturing is the foundation of our work here at Humanmade. It's really allowed for us to continue operating a Makerspace in the Bay Area. And we truly think that our really our next untapped bubble is really bringing these kind of programs to community colleges throughout California and beyond. And that is really the goal that I have this year and next year is how do we make these programs more accessible?

How do we make what works for Humanmade here work throughout the Bay Area and different communities who really need it.


That's great.