During the month of June, Board members of Midwest Railway Preservation Society began the process of reaching out to the Sears think[box] at Case Western Reserve University, with the hope of establishing a strategic relationship with both the think[box] and the university at large. Sears think[box] is a multifaceted innovation center that supports creativity and entrepreneurship in both the CWRU student community and the community at large. It is open to the use of the public, allowing anyone to take classes and use the resources of think[box].
Guiding the Members on a private tour was Ian Charnas, the Director of Innovation and Technology for think[box]. In his own words, he looks after a little bit of everything. Sears think[box] consists of seven floors, each with its own focus. It is thought that one could bring an idea from concept to market completely within the space available, using the tools and resources for everything from product prototyping to pitching investors.
The tour exhibited much equipment ranging from 3D printers and scanners and CNC waterjet cutters to complete wood and metal shops. Of particular interest are the design prototyping tools. Embroidery ma-chines, laser etching, and vinyl cutters could make quick work of design prototyping, stencil cutting, and short run jobs – provided that the time to learn and use the equipment can be invested. A wide variety of projects could be seen in the area, ranging from puzzles, and artwork to a Baja SAE car and model rocketry projects.
On other floors, think[box] can provide more professional services. Offerings there include short- and long-term office space, presentational space, even a conference area. The professional services also include networks of investors and contacts who are affiliated with think[box] and are interested in funding new businesses and are able to provide resources who can assist in the complex legal work of creating a business, applying for capital, and the other entry level barriers. While not fully comprehensive, the services are expanding all the time.
All told, Sears think[box] is a magnificent space in our city to help students and entrepreneurs bring their ideas to reality. While many projects at MRPS are too large physically or in scope, to fit on the equipment at think[box], the opportunity to leverage the space and its specialized tools could be invaluable.
On the flipside, Midwest hopes to be able to open its doors to the staff of Sears think[box] and display our own projects and tools. As much of our equipment is larger and more specialized, we might hope to offer our space as an expansion or augmentation of think[box]’s resources. Additionally, inspiration has been taken from the Steam Railroading Institute, and its history with Michigan State University in the hope that GTW 4070 and other equipment might become a case study or long-term practical project for the school of engineering.