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TechShop Founder Interviewed; Innovator Creates Small, Environmentally Friendly Apartment Homes

Aired September 21, 2013 - 14:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are innovators, game changers, people pushing themselves, moving us all forward. They're the next scientists, musicians, poets, the next makers, dreamers, teachers, and geniuses. They are THE NEXT LIST.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This week you'll meet two innovators who understand the power of ideas. Graham Hill is an entrepreneur and designer who is leveraging the power of the Internet to prove a point, people can live happier lives with less. Hill crowd sourced the design of his 420 square foot apartment in Manhattan.

I'm not touching the walls. But it is small.

He got 300 entrants and some spectacular ideas. But Hill says the best part of living a pared-down life is more freedom.

As a lifelong do-it-yourselfer, Jim Newton knows the power of having an idea and the tools to bring it to life.

JIM NEWTON, CHAIRMAN AND FOUNDER, TECHSHOP: I think when you give everyday people access to the tools of innovation, amazing things can happen.

ANTON WILLIS, FOUNDER, ORU KAYAK: This is an ORU kayak. This is a fully functional kayak that folds up into a suitcase-sized box.

GUPTA: It's one of the reasons he founded TechShop. It's an open space innovation workshop where for about $100 a month, members can use cutting-edge machinery and tools to develop ideas, design prototypes, even launch their own businesses. The other reason, because it's just plain fun.

NEWTON: You see them say, wow, I really can do this. This is -- this is stunning. They're stunned.

GUPTA: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and this is THE NEXT LIST.

NEWTON: Everybody has an idea in their head of something they want to make. You'd ask anybody on the street. At first maybe they'd say, I don't know, I don't think so. But if you dig a little deeper, pretty soon they'll say, well, maybe it's something for your car. Maybe it's something for your house or an improvement. Once you dig that out of them, they'll open up and they'll tell you all about this thing they want to make. What TechShop brings to members that come in here the ability to take the idea out of their head and get it into real form. It's very hard to do that for a lot of different reasons, from people being afraid to try, to not having the right tools are equipment, to not knowing how to do this stuff. The goal of TechShop is to guide people through on a path to success so they can actually realize that idea.

WILLIS: This is an ORU kayak. It's a fully functional kayak that folds up into a suitcase-size box for transport and storage. I came to think of this a few years ago when I moved into a small apartment and had to put my kayak in storage. And at about that time I read this magazine article on origami that inspired me to start playing around with ways of folding up a boat.

I think there are a lot of great things about TechShop. Just the access to the tools and facilities obviously is completely amazing. You can make almost anything you could imagine.

GUPTA: When you started at TechShop, did you have any idea of the equipment?

NEWTON: I had a list of 200 things I wanted to make. I looked at what tools do I need to be able to make all of those things? We have a huge range of equipment at TechShop, everything from milling machines and lathes, water jet cutter that can cut through six inches thick of anything on the planet.

GUPTA: How long would it take to do something like that?

NEWTON: That probably was maybe a five-minute cut.

The other thing that's great about TechShop is that we have our dream consultants on staff all the time. They'll come right over for free and help you out and make sure that you're having success and you feel confident about it.

DAVID LANG, OPENROV: I lost my job a year ago. And I was really kind of worried about the skills that I didn't have. You know, I felt like I was only capable of sitting in front of a computer and typing e- mails. So I came to TechShop with this big goal of reskilling myself.

My name is David Lang. I'm with a group, a community that I started. We created an underwater robot. So basically you plug this thing into your computer. You can drop it into a pond or a lake or the ocean and control it and see what it sees. So we launched a Kickstarter project, and we raised $110,000 from almost 500 people all over the world. And so we are so busy building robots right now.

NEWTON: It's really hard to say here's our typical member because there really aren't any.

JIM MCKELVEY, CO-FOUNDER, SQUARE: I came to TechShop because I need a milling machine. I was building these things by hand and I was using a shop in St. Louis. Then when I came out here, I couldn't find a place to work. And TechShop was this miraculous find. They had all the equipment. Then they had all the amazing people. I saw a guy making his own segue, a guy making a lunar lander, you know.

NEWTON: It's energetic. You can bounce ideas around with people. If you hit a road block, you can usually get help and kind of work your way through it. I'm Patrick Buckley, a chief dodo here at Dodo Case. Dodo Case is a manufacturer of book-bound cases for tablets such as the iPad and the Kindle. We've been developing the prototype at TechShop, and we continue to do the early production at TechShop using their equipment. We went from, you know, just hoping someone would buy one case to within a month we had hundreds of orders every day. It would have been nearly impossible for us to do what we did without TechShop.

NEWTON: Humans were made to make things. That's why we have thumbs. We've gotten away from making so much. There's that instinctive drive for people to create. I like to think that TechShop helps kind of rekindle that in people and get them back to being makers.


NEWTON: I was raised here in the bay area, San Francisco Bay Area. I've always been a tinkerer and a hacker all my life. I've always wanted to take things apart and see how stuff works. I was about six. My dad built a dune buggy from scratch. I remember him rolling a Volkswagen bug into the garage. And he took the body off, cut the frame, welded all the peace together, put a new body on it and transformed this car. And I was actually at one of the really critical points in my life when I learned that you can do pretty amazing things with your hands and some tools. You can make something as amazing as a car.

BARBARA NEWTON: He's funny. He probably thinks some of his jokes are funnier than I do, but he's funny. If I go away and leave him alone with the kids, he does stuff I wouldn't do when I'm around. One tie I went away one weekend and he made a mud pit in the backyard. He dug a hole and made it as muddy as they possibly could, and they loved it.

NEWTON: We made a go-cart, made a street go-cart. All three of the kids and I went into the garage, cut steel, welded the frame together, put the wheel on, built a braking system and designed it all from scratch. We did it in, like, one afternoon. And by the end of the evening, the kids were all taking turn racing this car down the hill.

BARBARA NEWTON: I guess I always hoped that some of his building of the race cars and the mud pit, some of that is to maybe not always play it safe, maybe not always do stuff that is sanctioned.

NEWTON: One of the really exciting things we're doing right now is working with the V.A. to provide membership it veteran that are coming back from the war. It seems like a lot of times veterans come back from the war, and they end up with some menial job. I see that a lot. And I think they deserve more than that. I think they deserve to be able to follow their ideas and their creativity and express themselves with a product or a business or whatever they want to do with it.

JONAH CZERWINSKI, DIRECTOR, VA INNOVATION INITIATIVE: The vision here is that in five years, we've got all of those veterans who use these memberships highly employed, earning the best they possibly can earn, or running their own businesses.

NEWTON: I think that everybody is really born to be a maker, born to be creative. And I think something that happens is, you grow up. You're a little kid. You're drawing pictures. And they're scribbles, but that scribble looks like something to you. You are using your imagination to project that. When you get a little bit older, you draw a picture, and maybe someone says, "What is that?" And you think, you know, that's, like, the shattering statement. "What is that?" Tech shop plays a role in building people's confidence. That's what our whole business is based on is making sure that a customer has a successful and fun experience.

LANG: That was a really scary thing. When you lose your job, they take your story from you. And it's a really hard time. Coming here was really important. I just can't underestimate, you know, this new opportunity, this new venture, but just the skills, you know, like just coming in and welding something that day. By the end of the day, I could say I made something versus just sending out a bunch of resumes is and not hearing back. You know, for me, it was really a lifesaver. And I kind of get choked up talking about it because it really meant a whole lot to me. It still matters a whole lot.

NEWTON: The most satisfying thing at TechShop for me is simply seeing people come in here into this new environment and seeing them light up the first time they come up with a project. I'll be out in the lobby, and I'll say, hey, did you have fun today? What did you make? And they'll say, oh, let me show you. And they'll unpack their whole kit just to get that little piece of metal that they machined out, you know, to show me. Look what I made. That's my favorite part.

The good thing is that from the very beginning, I did want to do it to empower people, and it's growing so quickly now that in ten years, we could have 1 million members innovating. It's pretty cool.

BARBARA NEWTON: He tells me stuff, and it's unbelievable. I can't believe that, you know, this idea that we had started out not as something to change the world. It's just to give him his tools. It struck such a nerve for so many people, and it might change the world.

NEWTON: I'm a very lucky guy, lucky with my family, lucky with my business. I constantly feel that I'm just very lucky to have the opportunity to build this company and reach and touch someone -- so many people's lives. Not very many people get to do that.

GUPTA: And up next, meet another innovator whose passion for living small is reaping big rewards.


GUPTA: Welcome back to THE NEXT LIST. More money, more freedom, and more peace, that's what designer Graham Hill says everyone can have if they just embrace a simpler life, starting with the size of your home.

GRAHAM HILL, FOUNDER, LIFEEDITED.COM: Editing, I believe, is really the skill of the century. And it's about getting rid of the chaff and getting down to what is important. No one wants a four-hour our movie. You want the hour and a half. People want to pick the best parts and you want to focus on your life that way.

GUPTA: So I'm not touching the walls as I stand in here, but it is small. Let's take a look around.

HILL: Big idea with this main space transforms into five different ram. So this is sort of basic living room. And then office is right here, so quite simple. So we just made a drawer that just pulls out like this. And then you have a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse like that. And you're up.

So let's take a couple of steps over here. It is really simple. You just pull these and there is some storage in here. Everything just stays like that. It is really super comfortable, solid bed. Not a huge kitchen. We try to make it really efficient.

GUPTA: I don't see a stove.

HILL: In order to keep the counters clean, some of the times we have three induction burners. You pull out however many you need.

In terms of space, every cubic foot you have in this space is a cubic foot that you have to eventually design and build, but you have to fill it full of stuff and you have to heat it and light it and cool it and maintain it and clean it. You have to think about it. So there is all this, it is just a cubic foot, but it comes with all this other stuff attached to it. Not all of it is good.

Let's pretend you are in New York City and you are going to have guests come.

GUPTA: You can have guests here?

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

GUPTA: This is the moving wall? Wow.

HILL: These are just a couple of bunk beds. They come out and there is this cool ladder thing that comes down acts as a support. So they are like green mattresses, super solid, really comfortable. And then for a little auditory and visual privacy, a curtain that comes out and it magnets to the end. It is a really cute little bedroom.

GUPTA: I am quite struck we are still in the same place. You really feel cordoned off. You said you wanted to make this possible to eat for 10 or 12 people. Right now, looking at this apartment, I have no idea how that's going to work.

HILL: Yes. You just pull this out.

GUPTA: Is it expensive to live this way?

HILL: Yes. If it is exactly the same space, this is going to be more expensive for sure. But what the comparison should be, this is 420 but it has the functionality of easily, 600, 700. In fact, this is an absolute bargain. I love things and I love having great things. But I don't want too many. I don't want to be overwhelmed. I am not saying don't have stuff. I'm saying just be conscious about the stuff you choose to bring into your life, and choose less but better.

CAROLINE PARTAMIAN, CHEF FOR HIRE: Graham Hill invites about 10 people over for his dinner parties and hires me to cook dinner to prove you can entertain in a space very comfortable. We are going to start off with tomato lentil soup with parmesan cheese shaved on the top, and then we'll finish off with a chocolate and cheese wrapped dough.

ANDREW RASIEJ, PERSONAL DEMOCRACY MEDIA: I hope it actually works, that he fulfilled his dream of having as little impact on the world as possible.

MARGARET LYDECKER, FOUNDER, GREEN DRINKS NYC: Owning a big house means cleaning a big house. You feel like you are a prisoner of this huge house you love and you can show off. But the reality is you end up being a cleaning lady.

BEN SCHEIM, SVP GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS, SOCIAL MEDIA WEEK: What blew me away was the fact that the entire wall comes out and these two drop- down buckets. I was like, holy crap, all of Japan needs to talk to Graham.

HILL: The beautiful thing about the architecture, it's quite simple. And so if you can live with less space, apply smart design and technology, you can create a way of life you will actually enjoy.

GUPTA: Just ahead, Graham Hill on the upside to downscaling your life.


HILL: So we're in Maui, the north shore. Because I design my life virtually, I am able to work from anywhere. So when it is freezing cold in New York, I am able to come here for two or three months and work from here. So it is a fantastic setup.

I will get up and have some breakfast, meditate and start working at 7:00 or something in the morning, put in a really good day, very concentrated. No one is dropping by the office. No meetings that I have to go to. And towards the end of the day, I'll go out and get on the water for an hour or two.

So I bought this little piece of land. I'm slowly thinking about what I can do with it. Most of the time, when humans come along and do something with the land, they make it worse for the plants, for the animals, and really for the humans overall. So I am trying to think of what sort of positive contribution I can make with this land.

My vision is to try to create a fully off-grid, luxurious, sustainable way of living that doesn't cost too much, and then try to get friends and maybe even make it a bed and breakfast and have people come through and understand how incredible it could be to live off grid. Off grid means you have a water catchment, there is enough rain that you can get all your water from the sky. Solar and wind are really good on Maui, so basically, make it entirely energy independent.

My thought is there is this pre-existing structure over here that will make at the communal area. Its' larger, big, great kitchen, the cooking and the lounge area, a little office, the bedroom. And spread out around the property, a few smaller Thoreau type cabinets with a great little bed, maybe a little desk.

There is a view of the ocean from a mile, mile and a half away, which is a pretty important part of it. A nice jungle feeling with tons of birds as you can hear but also really great view of the water. I love the water.

About a decade ago, I got the kite surfing bug in a very bad way. I would grow barnacles if I could. I come here and I just want to be in the water. The kite surfing, I go out and ride this kite and a strapless surf board. I go out over the waves, often jumping and turn around and come in and surf waves. Most of my life is about producing and making things, and this is just 100 percent play. You are out in the sun. There are turtles, the humpbacks, it's the must phenomenal thing. You are out there with just wind and the water. It is absolutely brilliant.

GUPTA: Being a kid that grew up in Canada, what kind of kid were you? Did you like open space?

HILL: Absolutely. I grew up on the side of a mountain. My dad found these old log cabins in Ontario, numbered them so he could remember how they went back together, put them on a truck, shipped them back. He put the well up the hill so we had gravity feed. We would have kerosene lanterns and the wood stoves. In the '70s and '80s in Quebec, the power would go off and we would be fine. We would have hot and cold running water and showers. We didn't miss a beat.

HILL: I want to work on things that help improve the world. That's really big for me. I think we have such a beautiful planet and incredible animals. I just think there is a better way to live on the planet. So that definitely has driven my last number of projects. I'm really interested in the environment and seeing what I can do to help.

So a big part of our footprint, close to 50 percent is related to buildings. And the beautiful thing about buildings is we have the technology we can actually do something about it. There are ways that you can build that allow you to really reduce your footprint.

The nice thing about living an edited life is that, essentially, it will give you time. Really, life is about time. Life is about experience. Life is about connecting with people, friends and family. That's the stuff that you want.

We sort of built these large separate castles for ourselves and really alienating ourselves. I think people actually want to -- deep down, they actually want to know their neighbors and feel like they are a part of a community and that life is -- more and more, people are realizing that happiness is about experience and not stuff. So I want to build buildings that really help support that, allow you to know your neighbors and care about your community.

GUPTA: As long as you have been doing this now, have you found there is any type of person or group of people who could not live like this?

HILL: There are definitely people who are just not going to be open or just not going to give this the time of day and not going to go there. And, yes, because they are not open, they sort of won't do this. But that's OK. I'm just trying to say, listen, as a society, we have triple amount of space than we did 50 years ago, a $22 billion personal storage industry, huge environmental footprints, a lot more debt, and we are not any happier. Something seems a little bit off there.

GUPTA: So if I said, you have this spot. Give me a tour around. We are going to trade you into a 2,500 square foot apartment tomorrow, that's yours. What would you do?

HILL: Split it into five.


GUPTA: That would be the perfect answer.

Graham Hill believes great design can help people live less complicated and happier live. It can help the planet, too. Jim Newton says giving people access it the tools of innovation will help them achieve their greatest creative potential. We put both men on THE NEXT LIST because they are using the power of their ideas and also the strength of their convictions to change live.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. Hope to see you back here next week.