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BetaBox: An Idea Factory in a Shipping Container

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Bring the tools to the people and they will build a better mousetrap?

That’s the idea behind BetaBox Mobile Prototyping Lab. The BetaBox is packed with 3D printers, laser cutters, scanners, and design equipment all inside a standard – though lovely blue – branded shipping container.

21Betaversity, the team behind the self-contained maker spaces, say they hope to encourage entrepreneurs and students to explore the latest micro-manufacturing and design technologies by bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as it were.

The BetaBoxes are already in place at a number of campus locations throughout North Carolina, and the idea is that universities, colleges, and businesses will be able to rent and customize each lab for such events as classes, conferences, and community outreach projects. The rental deal includes another critical element – a team of Betaversity experts capable of lending a hand with various projects and teaching workshops.

Blake Marggraff

Blake Marggraff

Betaversity is the brainchild Blake Marggraff, a Washington University at St. Louis biology student, and two partners. Their BetaBox Mobile Prototyping Lab wedges cutting edge, small scale manufacturing tools and makes them mobile. The company has been around for nearly a year, and to date, they’ve served more than 20 clients.

“We want to create a maker system that would attract anyone,” Marggraff says.

Using the shipping containers is a practical and slick method of getting new fabrication technologies in front of students and small companies, and it can be transported and installed as “a temporary innovation lab” through what the company calls a “share-based model of costly resources.”

Any BetaBox can be customized with tools and equipments meant to optimize it for a particular use.

And even though the space might appear small from the outside, the inside is sophisticated indeed. Each standard BetaBox installation includes: a PrintrBot 3D Printer, a 3D Systems scanner, Leap Motion Technology, Touchscreen Interface Technology, whiteboards, Rasperry Pi setups, a 3D Doodler, an Arduino setup, Solidworks 3D modeling software, Adobe Creative Suite software, a soldering station, a variety of power tools, a Chromecast kit, and Wacom tablets.

BetaBox Mobile Prototyping LabThe Betaversity team working on BetaBox have already conducted workshops on topics from 3D printing to laser cutting to coding, programming, and electronics design.

Marggraff says the company manufactures, rents, and even sells the BetaBox Mobile Prototyping Labs, which are housed in 25-foot-long shipping containers. Marggraff is the chief revenue officer and a founder of Betaversity, and his education technology company launched the BetaBox during the middle of 2014.

Sean Newman Maroni, another of the members of the Betaversity team, is credited with coming up with the idea after he attended an event aimed at young entrepreneurs. When the subject of shipping containers came up, Maroni found one that was headed to the scrap heap and bought it.

Sean Maroni of BetaBox

Sean Maroni of BetaBox

Nicholas Sailer, the company’s creative director, and Michael Hobgood, an architectural designer and Betaversity’s director of operations, then set to work on designing the look and feel of their mobile innovation lab.

Renting a BetaBox for a week runs $4,000 to $5,000, depending on how far it will be shipped and any needed customizations.

And within a few months of launch, Betaversity had already taken the “People’s Choice” award for best exhibit at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance 18th Annual Open Minds conference in Silicon Valley.

Marggraff says by the middle of last year, the founders had won over $50,000 in competitive grants, and hired two full-time employees. He adds that last year, the company generated more than $100,000 in revenues. Betaversity also just took second place at Student Startup Madness at SXSW earlier this week.

What do you think of the idea for BetaBox? Will the concept take off with universities and small businesses? Let us know in the BetaBox Idea Factory forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out a video as well as more photos of the endeavor below.

Sean Maroni of BetaBox
BetaBox Interior

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BetaBox on the road

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