Dayton has long been touted as a hotbed of innovation. One local business owner hopes to spread that inventive spirit across the U.S. with a chain of creative and technology experience centers.
Chris Wire, president of Real Art Design Group, opened Proto BuildBar in October at 534 E. First St., adjacent to his creative services agency. The bar and cafe is focused around emerging technologies, and features 3-D printers and electronics maker spaces for use by customers.
“We set out to create an environment that is fun, relaxing and a place that, quite frankly, the less you know walking in the front door, the happier my guys are to see you,” Wire said.
Dayton is a test market for the Proto BuildBar, which Wire hopes to replicate with additional locations across the country. “I think the time is just right for this type of place,” he said.
Proto is similar to a so-called hackerspace or makerspace, which is a community workshop where members can meet and collaborate on projects that typically involve computers, machining, technology or digital art.
Dayton Diode at 1001 E. Second St. is a nonprofit hackerspace with open, inclusive membership.
Wire said hackerspaces can be “intimidating” to newcomers and non-members. His concept is a hands-on creative space that is more inviting to people of all ages and experience levels, including families.
“This is a place where you can come and experiment and start on that path to creating,” Wire said.
Proto offers a dozen 3-D printers and eight soldering stations for working with small electronics and micro-computers. Staff members are available to help customers with the technologies.
Prices for 3-D printing projects start at $20 and vary based on the model’s size and resolution, said Daniel Madero, assistant manager. The cost for use of the maker benches and electronics lab is $25 per hour.
The cafe features sandwiches and pastries, coffee, craft beer, wine and select bourbons.
Madero said Proto has become a popular date-night spot, as well as a study space for University of Dayton engineering students. Weekends tend to bring families sharing “quality time” while learning about science, technology, engineering, art and math, he said.
Proto employs eight to 10 workers, most part-time. Wire declined to disclose the cost to open the facility.
The building, which Wire is leasing with an option to purchase, also houses Real Art’s development lab, with a full machine and woodworking shop and an electronics lab for agency brand interaction campaigns.
Dayton-based Real Art has become a recognized business in combining machines, specialized software and the Internet to create rich interactive experiences for clients that include Sears, Hobart Corp. and SportsNet New York.
Real Art’s Guiness record-holding World’s Largest Claw Game is now at Proto, retrofitted with a giant joystick for customer use.
Wire’s next move is to determine Proto’s viability and “write the playbook on how to replicate it,” he said.
His plans call for a number of locations in mid-size markets that are embracing creative culture, such as Pittsburgh, Portand, Ore. or Austin, Texas.
“Our belief is that if it cash-flows out the way that we anticipate it will, we are going to go ahead and open up some additional corporate stores across the country,” Wire said.
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