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Augusta geeks have their own Clubhou.se

Saturday, April 13, 2013 4:45 PM
Last updated Sunday, April 14, 2013 11:18 PM
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When Chris Williamson wanted to talk technology with fellow geeks in the past, he found that this city offered few options.

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Clubhou.se partner Eric Parker sweeps the front stoop of the Broad Street workspace for Augusta's tech community.  JEFF JANOWSKI/STAFF
JEFF JANOWSKI/STAFF
Clubhou.se partner Eric Parker sweeps the front stoop of the Broad Street workspace for Augusta's tech community.

“I started doing robotics 10 or 12 years ago, and I ended up having to reach out across the country because I couldn’t find anybody else in the Augusta area who I could talk to,” said Williamson, a mechanist for Kenward Industries.

As time went on, he found a handful of miniature tech clubs with focuses ranging from software to woodworking – but there was no binding fiber, no sense of community among those who embrace the term “geek.”

The void inspired Williamson and a handful of other tech-savvy professionals to bring Augusta’s technology community to the forefront. In December, taking a cue from places such as Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, 10 founding members opened The Clubhou.se at 816 Broad St., a shared space where anyone can come to work on robots, Web sites, wood projects or just share ideas and get inspired.

“You can go to Starbucks and sit by yourself and try to get stuff done or have a downtown office where there might be four or five other people there who you can bounce ideas off of and try to get feedback,” Williamson said.

Inside The Clubhou.se, members can scribble ideas and formulas on a wall of whiteboards. The other side has a row of wooden work tables against a wall of exposed brick. Their conference room has a ping-pong table, and monthly meetings include beer.

With about 25 members to date, The Clubhou.se is made up of small business owners, architects, engineers, free-lancers and other professionals. Membership is $100 a month, $50 for students and military, which includes 24/7 access to the office space and entrance to any monthly meeting or get-together.

Co-founder Eric Parker, who spent years working as an architect in Silicon Valley, said membership dues cover the building’s rent and utilities. Anything left over is used for equipment or special projects. For instance, in March, The Clubhou.se funded and installed a Wi-Fi hotspot in the Harrisburg neighborhood to give residents free Internet access.

Parker said the dream is for The Clubhou.se to one day have a bigger workspace, where members can build anything from an iPhone app to a car.

It has potential to be a breeding ground for small businesses or a place to entice investors to support projects – which would make The Clubhou.se a true tech start-up.

“I think this area is going to make tremendous waves in the next five or 10 years,” Parker said. “Augusta is a tremendously motivated and organized community that really has spent the last half-century licking its chops waiting to do something. It’s now starting to develop its own swagger. I think Augusta is preparing to land itself.”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver acknowledged that the tech community in Augusta might feel disconnected on a social level, but he said The Clubhou.se is an example of how the tech industry is budding within the city.

Last year metro Augusta ranked second in the U.S. for growth of high tech jobs over five years, with an 81 percent increase in those positions between 2006 and 2011.

Copenhaver said Augusta’s low cost of living and its industries are continuing to attract high-end tech companies, just as Atlanta’s Rural Sourcing Inc. did in 2011.
“When you have young entrepreneurs putting together something like The Clubhou.se, it’s just capitalizing on the momentum going on in the tech sector,” Copenhaver said.

If nothing else, The Clubhou.se provides a welcoming space where “geeks can hang out with other geeks,” as Parker put it.

At the most recent Beers and Bytes monthly meeting, small talk consisted of how to find the diameter of a Pringles can and which program board is best installed in a robot.

In early April, the group held a sumobot competition, in which homemade robots with sensors tried to knock each other off a small platform.

It also now serves as an umbrella for the handful of smaller, unacquainted tech groups, such as Hack Augusta and CSRA Makers, that have existed for several years.

Clubhou.se member Grace Belangia said she sees it as a place to be around like-minded people who are aiming at launching their own businesses. As a working mother and owner of her own marketing firm, 3rd Degree Media, Belangia uses the shared space to meet with clients or to hang out and absorb creativity from friends.

Having grown up in Sili­con Valley, she sees potential for Augusta to sprout more start-up tech companies. It will just take efforts similar to The Clubhou.se to put tech­nology and creativity on a pedestal and lure larger industries and investors.

“I want to stop the brain drain,” Belangia said. “I have kids in high school now, and I want them to look at Augusta as an opportunity so they don’t have to go to another part of the country where they can find well paying, educated jobs. Or people here already … they can stay here and contribute to it as opposed to a transient thing. Augusta has come a long way in terms of art and culture, and it’s all kind of developing.”

ABOUT THE CLUBHOU.SE

WHERE: 816 Broad St.

MEMBERSHIP: $100 a month general, $50 student/military, http://theclub
hou.se/

TED CONFERENCE

On the heels of The Clubhou.se’s launch, founding member Grace Belangia is using the momentum to bring a nationwide initiative to the Augusta area.

On Jan. 31, Augusta’s first TEDx event will be held at the Augusta Main Library on Telfair Street.

TEDx is a localized version of the global conferences hosted by the nonprofit TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design under the motto “ideas worth spreading.”

TED conferences broadcast globally online have featured speakers such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, evangelical pastor Rick Warren, British Prime Minister David Cameron, sports and music stars, and humanitarians.

Belangia, who will organize the conference, said the nonprofit approved Augusta’s first TEDx event in February, but with certain provisions.

The inaugural conference will offer only 100 tickets to the public through a lottery process. However, Belangia said that if community support is there TEDx could become a yearly event open to the public with a range of speakers and sponsors.

She said the theme and speakers for January will be announced after the summer, but the focus will stay true to the core organization: “Ideas worth spreading.”

Comments (5) Add comment
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Riverman1
90733
Points
Riverman1 04/14/13 - 04:58 am
6
1
Finding the Diameter of a Pringles Can

"How to find the diameter of a Pringles can?"

I think the solution to this begins with eating all the chips out of the can and drinking exactly 3.142 beers. For BBQ ones increase the beer by 0.858.

ep_aia
2
Points
ep_aia 04/14/13 - 09:03 am
0
0
The need for a Pringles can diameter

as a minor point of clarification, the pringles can issue was to find the optimal diameter for boosting WiFi signals...turns out that ALPO cans are the much better for amplifying 2.4 ghz WiFi signals

dichotomy
36291
Points
dichotomy 04/14/13 - 09:32 am
2
1
The membership fee sounds a

The membership fee sounds a little steep but otherwise a great idea. Of course, I'm old so everything sounds too expensive to me. Hope it's a success. Maybe they could have a $25 a year membership for "budding geeks" where young folks could come around and be mentored.

countyman
21303
Points
countyman 04/14/13 - 03:19 pm
2
0
Excellent!

This is the type of stuff Augusta desperately needs.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 04/15/13 - 10:16 am
2
0
Great article on the concept

Great article on the concept and good for awareness.

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