In the heart of Altoona, Pennsylvania, a small rural town celebrated for its historical railroads more than its technological innovations, Catalyst Space emerged as a beacon of modern innovation. As a 20-year-old student pursuing a degree in ElectroMechanical Engineering at Penn State Altoona, I saw a unique opportunity to fill a crucial STEM gap within the community. My goal was to establish a makerspace and ignite a culture of creativity and technological exploration.
In January 2015, I embarked on a journey that profoundly shaped my understanding of entrepreneurship, community engagement, and the complexities of politics by signing my first commercial lease for a space in the historical Gables Building. This step marked the genesis of Catalyst Space, envisioned as a hub for shared interests in computing, technology, and beyond, fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation.
mak·er·space | /ˈmākərˌspās/
noun | a place in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.
Bootstrapped Beginnings and Growth Through Support
Catalyst Space sprang from a deeply personal commitment, with the initial setup bootstrapped from my savings and essentials pulled from my own home. My roommate and I pooled our resources to acquire our first 3D printer and laser cutter, laying the groundwork for what would become a hub of innovation.
These early sacrifices set the stage for a significant boost when we were awarded a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER initiative. This funding was pivotal, enabling us to expand beyond our modest beginnings and build Catalyst Space into a cornerstone for technological creativity in Altoona.
The Milestones of Catalyst Space
As Catalyst Space flourished, so too did its reach and capabilities. We took immense pride in not only fostering innovation but also in nurturing talent. The space became a breeding ground for opportunity, allowing us to bring on passionate employees and interns whose dedication and creativity propelled us forward. Together, we organized “Faraday” science presentations, which became a hallmark of Catalyst Space, enlightening and inspiring the community with the wonders of science and technology.
Our initiatives expanded further as we launched a 3D print shop, turning digital designs into tangible reality for clients both local and beyond. This venture wasn’t just a service—it was an educational platform, showcasing the practical applications of 3D printing and stirring a dialogue about the future of manufacturing.
However, every story has its complexities, and ours was no different. Over time, the partnership with the economic development organization became challenging. Their involvement in a local political issue had unintended consequences for Catalyst Space, leading to difficulties we struggled to overcome. This was a significant learning curve for me, highlighting the importance of aligning with partners who consistently share and support your mission and values.
Reflections on the Journey
In retrospect, creating Catalyst Space was an ambitious endeavor that pushed the boundaries of what I thought possible. Gazing back at the photographs, I sometimes ponder the audacity of my younger self, taking such a leap. Yet, I remain convinced that action is always better than inaction, and the best time to start is always the present moment. Despite the challenges, the journey was rich with learning, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Contributions and Community Impact
Each of these achievements underscored our mission: to be more than a space, to be a catalyst for growth, learning, and curiosity. Every story began with walking through our doors, from the interns who found their calling in tech to the professionals who utilized our resources to bring their visions to life.
Reflecting on those bustling days filled with the hum of machinery and the vibrant energy of collaborative creation, I am filled with a sense of accomplishment. Catalyst Space was not just a hub for making; it was a community classroom, a professional workshop, and a launchpad for ideas that may one day change the world.
Gratitude and Legacy
I extend my deepest gratitude to everyone who contributed to the Catalyst Space story — from the local economic development organization that believed in our mission to the vibrant community of makers who breathed life into the space. Your support, creativity, and enthusiasm were the true heart of Catalyst Space.
I invite you to reminisce with us through a curated slideshow of photographs capturing our journey.
Join the Makerspace Movement
If you’re inspired to start your own makerspace and would like guidance, or if you’re seeking operational assets to streamline your journey, I’m here to help. I’ve traversed the path from conception to realization and faced the challenges that come with it. Reach out to me for insights and resources that could light the way for your makerspace project. Let’s continue to build spaces where creativity and innovation thrive.