Port Product Lab First Mates Program - a vision, and early case study

CNC Router Operations: Imani

CNC Router Operations: Imani

Elevator Works recently assumed responsibility for operating the newly-rebranded Port Product Lab. We have teamed up with Port Workspaces - the largest independent coworking operator in the Bay Area - to activate a 4,000 sqft space in the middle of a disused shopping mall building in downtown Oakland.

Port Workspaces has been working in this building for several years. As part of their operations, they have been trading free memberships to individuals who have been contributing five hours a week of their time - these are ‘First Mates’ in the nautical parlance of Port Workspaces. First Mates do things like sit at a reception desk, sort mail, answer member questions, manage deliveries, etc.

As we considered how to best operate the Product Lab, we realized immediately that we would need to do something similar, but we need more from Product Lab First Mates than a general coworking operation does. Members have more specific questions and needs. We have materials to manage, and especially as we’re still building out our workshop, lots of projects that need doing.

Signmaking department and special projects: Mylla

Signmaking department and special projects: Mylla

So, we put our Fab City hats on, and thought hard about how to launch a program that moves us closer to our forty-year goal, when we’ve shaped an Oakland where all of us make all we need. Work trade is common in the makerspace world, but because the Product Lab is particularly a space where professionals do professional things, we considered what other value we could offer in return for leaning a bit more on the skills and abilities of our extended team.

Here’s the idea: freelancers, especially young people or those who are changing careers, need a space to network, find customers, and run their businesses. When those businesses can benefit from the equipment or space of the Product Lab, or from our help, we can enable those businesses to grow while lowering their cost. As we contract for professional services, we look first to our First Mates to help us get things done.

This program is only a few months old, and we’re working out kinks every day, but already it’s led us to two young women who are becoming part of our production operation. They’re both working to build their own freelance activities, and they’re helping us by running machines, installing signs, building furniture, and more.

Meet Mylla Truong and Imani Wilson. Mylla has become our sign designer/fabricator/installer, and Imani is just stepping in to lead our CNC router operations - we’ve brought her three furniture projects to get her started, and we’ll find more projects together.

Mobile Refuge Rooms - from idea to social enterprise


Our incarcerated citizens are often missing from conversations which affect them. Support systems designed to help the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated are mostly designed by well-intentioned outsiders. The Mobile Refuge Room process is different.

Designing Justice+Designing Spaces came to us with a unique opportunity: help prototype an innovative approach to transitional housing, and create opportunities for learning and job creation as the product moved from idea to market. The more we heard about their project, the more intrigued we were.

Some backstory: DJDS formed a partnership with Center of Hope Community Church, Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, or BOSS, and the Alameda County Sheriff's Department to transform an underutilized former academy site in deep East Oakland into a campus that would host reentry and multi-generational transitional housing, supportive services and additional outdoor amenities.

DJDS went to work, in an area where they have deep experience. They solicited input from formerly incarcerated individuals as they designed a multi-use campus - one that looks very different from the norm. One of the innovations in their approach to transitional housing was a flexible partition system which serves as a safe and dignified space for residents: the Mobile Refuge Room.

DJDS needed a fabrication facility to help them take their basic design into a finished, customer-ready model. They wanted to involve formerly incarcerated people throughout the process, from feature design right through finished product. We immediately recognized this as a model Fab City project, with all the necessary parts to solve this innovative problem in a truly innovative way.

We engaged the team at the Laney College FabLab, along with a campus organization called Restoring Our Communities (ROC). ROC exists to serve the needs of formerly incarcerated students on Laney campus. Many of those students are recently released, some still living in similar transitional housing facilities. Using the prototyping skills of the FabLab, and the meaningful engagement of the ROC student community, we saw a special environment in which to move the project forward.

Elevator Works served as the liaison between DJDS and Laney, and helped define the respective roles of each of the partners. The campus groups had not before been engaged on a project together; in fact, ROC students were generally unaware that the FabLab existed as a resource that they could take advantage of while attending school. We are supporting DJDS in aligning the process to the capacity and schedule of a community college. This is new territory for both of us.

DJDS facilitated a design workshop on Laney College Campus on February 22, 2019, and were happily surprised with the engagement of the ROC community and FabLab technical mentors. The session, by all accounts, helped to create a sense of empowerment on the part of the ROC students, who were not accustomed to being invited to create solutions in this way. We emerged from that session with several full-scale cardboard mockups of Refuge Rooms.

Additionally, we are excited about the potential opportunity to build the factory that makes Refuge Rooms, and that continues to train and employ formerly incarcerated Oaklanders. We are intimately involved throughout the design and prototyping process to ensure manufacturability at the right price point. We will provide equipment and space to enable this production.

We are working with all partners to tell this story to the general public, which will help ensure necessary funding and investment at all stages of the process. We feel fortunate that, in this time and this place, Oakland 2019, we have the conditions and visionary people that can create and follow through on an idea like this one. We are committed to the ultimate success and long life of this product, which can fill needs nearby and across the nation as we increasingly work to unwind our incarceration complex.

Fab City Challenge: Transform Manufacturing Waste Into Profit


Fab City thinking requires a systematic view across sectors. Elevator Works is always listening for opportunities to direct meaningful efforts that help us move closer to Oakland 2054, and promote this coordinated approach.

We have been approached by several small local manufacturers who are generating consistent and clean waste products. These are generally items that are destined for a landfill, and which the producer must pay to dispose of. These firms have offered to sort these potentially valuable items and make them available for re-use.

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The first and most basic idea for redeploying this waste was to donate it to educational makerspaces in the Fab City network. But as we considered this problem through the Fab City lens, we realized we could achieve much more.

We formulated a local challenge which has key interlocking goals:

  • Find market-viable products or services which can use clean manufacturing waste as raw materials inputs

  • Educate a diverse group Oaklanders in basic entrepreneurship and basic business planning skills

  • Create lasting closed-loop systems, in which consumers of diverted material can inform the upstream producer’s design decisions


So, rather than facilitate a limited capacity for re-use (like an Urban Ore or Depot for Creative Re-Use), we are encouraging the most creative and resourceful members of our community to apply low- or zero-cost raw materials to problems they directly experience.

This program is a low-risk pilot, which has the support of local partners including the City of Oakland, Uptima Business Bootcamp, MakerEd, AM Bay Area, local FabLabs and the members of our Fab City Education Workgroup. We are working to fund this innovative effort. Stay tuned for more.

From greeting card to 3d Object


Elevator Works was approached by a client with a desire to create a special gift card, which the recipient would then turn into a durable object.

The client wanted their gift to create an experience which engaged the user in a design and assembly exercise, and showed how simple digital fabrication can be used as a strategy for engagement and education.

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We’ve since used this basic idea to create several similar objects, all of which start as one or two small pieces of thin material which fit in an envelope. All are customizable, and we’re able to design new functional branded objects for new customers with a similar need - for tradeshow marketing materials, employee awards, product packaging inserts, and lots of other applications.

Let us help you with your branded merchandise needs. Contact us for more information.

Building a Fab City Innovation Center in a Growing Network of FabLabs

Oakland Fab City needs a space to hold its growing program activities. Elevator Works is leading the effort to create a Fab City Innovation Center. to serve Oaklanders and global partners working in education, innovation, industry, and government.

Proliferation of Oakland FabLabs

New FabLabs emerge in the Oakland Fab City system in two ways:

  1. recruiting and facilitating existing makerspaces to join the FabLab network,

  2. building new facilities in places where our community members can find inspiration, skill building, equipment, space and support to realize their ideas.

Each FabLab in the Fab City network requires leadership and ownership by local community members to truly serve their members. We need facilities to share data, help members traverse other nodes and partners in our network, host events and projects. Each facility is specialized to meet the needs of its community, and each has limits on its local capacity.

Staff and members of these facilities will find the support they need at the Fab City Innovation Center.

A hub for local FabLabs and their members

FabLabs need skilled staff, standardized operations, maintenance and support for their equipment. They need to acquire and process raw materials. They need to hold at least part-time access for community members, and serve as an engagement point which is welcoming and supportive for everyone, from first time visitors though project and company leaders.

FabLab members need access to increasingly specialized equipment, facilities, and staff as they proceed to make their

Incubating Modern & Innovative Local Manufacturing

To get to Oakland 2054, we will need a tremendous blossoming of new ideas. Oakland already has optimum conditions for these to emerge: a strong ‘hustle’ culture, a DIY spirit, tremendous creativity and resourcefulness, highly specialized skills in various areas, an appetite for investment and risk, and a rich local economy in which to root new enterprise.

We know that innovations produced by Fab City mission-aligned founders and partners will change our city and the world we live in. Innovations emerging from Oakland and the Bay Area have already shown us this sort of world-changing is possible, Because of the nature of our long-term goals, we know that we will see innovation in both technical and social components of the companies that form in a supportive Fab City environment.

Virtual platforms don’t spark the same kind of unexpected creativity and partnerships that happen when interesting cross-sections of our community come together with a common goal, in a single space. The Fab City Innovation Center is that space.

Show, tell, inspire, and drive

Fab City vision becomes tangible in our Innovation Center. When activities and people are dispersed, their visibility and capacity to inspire is limited. A place-based platform to show Oakland and the world the great work we are accomplishing increases momentum and impact.

Building this facility will require creative solutions, and great partners. There are several components of the center which will produce revenue and profit, but others which might for some time require external support and subsidy. We have some examples which can help us design a center which is funded by individual and institutional memberships, and hosts services for various customers.

The Fab City Innovation Center will hold events, accommodate residencies and longer-term projects, create space for mission-aligned organizations and companies, and incubate emerging manufacturing companies.

We’re building it because Fab City needs it. We’ve raised some funding for an initial study, which will identify the best local partners and sites to root the facility and help it thrive. We’ll be making critical decisions over the next several months about where to focus these efforts.

We need your participation and help. Send us a note if you’re a prospective tenant, landlord, partner in industry, education, or think you’ve got something to contribute to this project. We’d love to hear from you.

Emerging Manufacturer Study - clarifying need & opportunity


We recognize that the rapid evolution in the advanced manufacturing space is a source of tremendous opportunity for economic development. Looking at this through the lens of Fab City, we see a clear need to shape how this process will proceed. Local companies who are able to take advantage of the unique conditions here in Oakland will create wealth for themselves and their investors. Local investors will recognize this opportunity and direct more of their attention into this sector. This will not happen without intentional effort.

Much of the 2019 Oakland Fab City Seed will be directed into early efforts in this area. We have several goals:

  • identify a range of local manufacturing businesses, from idea- through growth-stage, and representing the diverse Oakland community

  • build and strengthen partnerships with the City of Oakland, local CDFIs, coworking and professional creative communities, and business support organizations

  • engage businesses throughout the manufacturing sector, including manufacturers whose products are made both locally and elsewhere

  • significantly expand the Fab City contact list of local manufacturers and support professionals

  • promote the Fab City story to those manufacturers, to help shape their thinking toward local benefit

  • clarify barriers to participation for diverse local entrepreneurs who can benefit from opportunities for wealth- and agency-building—use insertion points in youth and adult education, existing women- and minority-owned businesses, and the organizations which serve them

  • identify opportunities to connect need to supply within our local ecosystem, and to fill gaps which will enable increasing local innovation

As we end this first project effort, we will have identified several priority initiatives which can be advanced through low-risk pilots to ensure execution and commitment proceed in parallel. We have much to do in this area, and are excited to be coordinating these efforts.

Oakland Fab City - what, why and how?

It’s 2019 in Oakland. We’ve joined a global community working toward the year 2054, when we make all we need. We’re wrapping our heads around all that needs to shift to create this new reality, and what problems need immediate attention. Some of our immediate problems can benefit from framing them in this long-term context, and this is a great place to start.

Check out the piece I recently published on the global Fab City Blog. It’s the first in a series that will be published throughout the year. We have so much to share!

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- sal

Fab City Education Workgroup

Oakland FabLabs are primarily located in education institutions, and have been working their magic for several years. It makes sense that Oakland Fab City would have a jumpstart in its work in this area. Fab City framing has led to the formation of a working group representing the most creative, most dedicated, most passionate members of the local ‘maker education’ community. Workgroup members span public, charter and private K-12 schools, community and four-year colleges, and adult education.

The Fab City Pledge Program - individual, corporate, institutional

In late 2018, Elevator Works built the Fab City Pledge, a prototype of an idea which allows individuals to frame Oakland Fab City and their participation in three ways:

  1. What attracts me to Fab City?

  2. What does Fab City need to succeed?

  3. What will I commit to do to help?

The Pledge is an engagement strategy that allows individuals to tell their own stories and be accountable to each other as the program proceeds. We are committed to expanding the Pledge to include institutions, local manufacturers, and corporations who have a local presence. By framing engagement for these stakeholders in a similar way (why are we here? where are we going? what are we doing?), we allow those partners to clearly express their relationship to Fab City, and for others to see their institutional commitments.

As we engage supporting partners who will provide the financial support necessary to carry out Fab City work, we will ask each to make a pledge, which creates visibility and other benefits for the supporter. We will design these benefits considering input from early supporters, and use these to attract additional supporters and partners.

For our own part, in addition to Elevator Works’ leadership role and responsibilities to this program, we are committed Fab City partners. Here is our institutional pledge: