Providing tools for the trade

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Facilitating an inventor’s jump from idea to physical product is the driving force behind Wilmington’s first maker space, Elite Innovations, and its CEO Andrew Williams.

Similar to the concept of shared-space office environments, a maker space provides the same infrastructure including all of the materials, tools, machinery and resources inventors need to create physical products they could not otherwise afford by themselves.

Williams, a Wilmington native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, purchased the empty warehouse at the corner of 18th and Queen streets to develop the maker space after successfully launching two inventions of his own.

The first, TacLace, is a rapid shoelace tying system originally designed for military combat boots and now used by military personnel and outdoorsmen.

The second, ORIGOSafe, requires a driver to lock his or her phone in the device’s cradle before turning on the vehicle, thus inhibiting phone operation while driving.

“It is mainly for commercial trucks and businesses with fleet vehicles,” Williams said. “We just got our first report back from a company that has had it for a year and they went from having one accident at least every six weeks to having zero in a year.”

Building on his personal experience, Williams said Elite Innovations would cater to anyone that has an idea they want to create.

“My main target is inventors and aspiring entrepreneurs but we get a lot of tinkerers and hobbyists too, which is perfectly fine,” he said. “I love product development and that is what I do so I like helping people that have an idea they want to create.”

With the variety of tools inside Elite Innovations, Williams said virtually anything could be built.

Beginning in the design phase, Elite Innovations members have access to laptops with Computer Aided Design software and three 3D printers capable of creating prototypes of what is designed.

“Somebody can actually go from the virtual model to the physical model in their hands in the same day and usually that can take months,” Williams said.

Along one wall of the warehouse, a row of three large tables provides space for general electronics work with soldering irons and other tools.

Behind those tables is the textiles area, complete with tools like vinyl cutters, heat presses, grommet punches and button fasteners.

Next there are two rows of individual workbench stations for refining prototypes and then the area with industrial tools like router tables, drill presses, metal brakes, miter saws, a welder, metal lathe and metal band saw.

In the near future, Williams said the space would also add a laser cutter and CNC machine for automated metal cutting.

So far Elite Innovations has acquired 15 members who pay monthly or yearly dues. but Williams said the greater Wilmington area is home to many entrepreneurs and inventors who have yet to take the next step with their ideas.

“I think Wilmington is a place that has cool ideas,” Williams said. “That first step is so intimidating and you don’t know what to do so I am trying to give people that opportunity. The ideas I have seen come through here are already really good, it just makes you wonder how many people here have ideas that just don’t go anywhere.”

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