Martinsville facility promotes entrepreneurship

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PHCC student Chris Wagoner demonstrates the 3-D doodler pen.
Photo courtesy Patrick Henry Community College

A community college facility promoting entrepreneurship in Southern Virginia has opened in Martinsville.

The Thomas P. Dalton IDEA Center officially opened in May in a three-story building in Martinsville’s Uptown neighborhood bought by the Patrick Henry Community College Real Estate Foundation.

The 20,520-square-foot facility is the result of a donation by the family of the late Thomas P. Dalton, who graduated from the community college in 1982 and earned a degree from Averett University in 1984. He died in 2012.

“His family wanted more of a presence of the college in our Uptown area,” says Jim Bove, the community college’s public relations and marketing manager. “It was a booming area for local businesses several decades ago. It fell on hard times and now a lot of the space in that area has been revitalized by local entrepreneurs.”

The building formerly housed Solid Stone Fabrics, which recently relocated to accommodate an expansion.

The IDEA center’s name stands for “Innovate, Design, Engineer, Accelerate.”  The facility houses the Fab Lab, a collaboration venture involving Patrick Henry Community College, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and New College Institute. The program started in a 1,400-square-foot space in 2012.

“Now the lab has around 14,000 square feet in the IDEA Center,” says Matthew Wade, the program’s coordinator.

The Martinsville Fab Lab is part of a network of around 60 facilities around the country, which offer digital fabrication opportunities to companies trying to develop new products and technologies. The lab also is connected to other facilities worldwide through a system provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the originator of the Fab Lab concept.

The Martinsville lab’s equipment includes vinyl and laser cutters, a desktop mill, a computer numerically controlled router, 3-D printers and electronic workstations.

“You teach people how to use the equipment, and they can create something to solve a problem,” Wade says. “They can make prototypes and start something before they go to manufacturing.”

The lab’s 3-D printers work with a variety of materials and substances that include metal, powder, plastic filament and resin. “But the Fab Lab is more than just 3-D printers because they have limitations,” Wade says. “We can fabricate projects in the lab with many different materials using other machines.”

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