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.