A Changing Brooklyn: Navy Yard Industrial Park

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New Lab — innovation in the heart of the Hardware Renaissance

New Lab. Photo by Jessica Dean/New Lab

New Lab. Photo by Jessica Dean/New Lab

As with any other co-working space that one may come across in New York, New Lab, located in the Navy Yard Industrial Park, offers common working areas, private conference rooms, and a kitchenette. However, when you walk into New Lab, you may find yourself surrounded by not only a flow of ideas, but also by metal shavings and sawdust. 

That’s because the New Lab is a different kind of co-working space. It is first and foremost a space for developing innovative hardware, not software. Professionals from the areas of industrial manufacturing, robotics, healthcare, and other hardware fields comprise the majority of the New Lab tenants.

New Lab is both a reaction to, and a catalyst of, a larger trend that’s taking place in New York and in the rest of America—the renaissance of the hardware industry. “Tucked around Brooklyn and New York are people who are growing really surprising companies with products like nano-microscopes, medical instruments, or next-generation building skins that capture energy in a new way,” says Scott Cohen, the Co-Founder at the New Lab in the Navy Yard.

However, these innovators have been struggling to turn their ideas into tangible products due to the lack of easily accessible resources, tools, and prototyping facilities. “Many of them are doing this in inappropriate spaces,” Cohen explains. “They can pull ceiling tiles out of buildings to accommodate large prototypes or often send something to Ohio to get a prototype, because some of the machines and services are not around here to do it.”

That’s why Cohen and his partner decided to open a facility where hardware innovators would have easy access to workspaces, and the relevant tools and resources. “There is more that’s happening in hardware space than we have ever imagined,” says Cohen. “We have been focused for years on software and how people communicate, and now there is a real movement around how things communicate.”

New Lab is taking up residence in the Brooklyn Navy Yard Industrial Park, one of New York’s 15 industrial zones. According to Aisha Glover, the Vice President of External Affairs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, “Industrial space is not available as it once was. Most waterfront areas with industrial zones have turned into residential. This is a secret ground.”

New Lab Beta is currently in a 9,000 sq. space in the Navy Yard. Under construction is an 84,000 sq. ft. space in a former ship building factory.  When complete, New Lab will have a robust resources shop where tenants can either make use of the tools, such as machinery, a 3D printer, laser cutters, and traditional tools that can be found in any wood or metal shop. Its tenants can either use the tools themselves or ask for help from staff. The idea is to empower tenants to quickly and easily build a working prototype. “There is a difference between making something that looks like an object and something that functions like an object,” says Cohen. Marc Schwartz, a tenant in the New Lab and a President at 2know, a new platform for managing health needs, says that the tenants often use the shop, and he’s often a guest there for his own outside-of-work hobbies.

The New Lab Beta space, founded in 2012, is now occupied by 12 companies that, altogether, have 30 employees so far. It’s home to a non-profit, Terreform ONE, an “experimental green design group that promotes new concepts for the advancement of cities,” and RockPaperRobot, a producer of kinetic furniture, lighting, and robotic installations. It also houses The Living, which creates full-scale, functioning prototypes of the architecture of the future, among others.

One tenant of the New Lab, Jessica Banks, the President and Founder of RockPaperRobot, describes the environment in New Lab as “very trusting, sharing, and collaborative.”

If you place a lid on a bottle, it’s guaranteed that that the molecules inside the bottle will bump into each other. That is the kind of interaction that New Lab hopes will take place when the tenants from various hardware fields run into each other in the hallways, and the common areas and discuss their ideas. The hope is that these people can generate new ideas and solutions from to the interactions and exchanges they have with each other.

New Lab also has a desire to help the young talent from the local New York communities. It hires interns every summer from Brooklyn schools, like the Pratt Institute of Art and Design, and schools from other areas of New York, including Parsons College in Manhattan.

Schwartz has extended internship opportunities to students at the Rhode Island School of Design and to a student from Panama. “Young people can do creative work here, which is not only economically viable, but is a little bit more diverse,” he says. “A goal for a lot of us in the New Lab is to do something creative and to make a living off of it.”

New Lab, as Schwartz describes, is “not a corporation that can create 10,000 jobs, but has a potential to create a handful.” He’s also looking forward to a bigger building that is being built and will be opened sometime next year. “We are just a sales pitch, or a demo, of what will be placed in a new building ten times larger.” Schwartz is excited about the corporate sponsorship opportunity in the new building.

Glover shares that a larger U-shaped Green Manufacturing Center will come to life in 2015. New Lab will occupy one of the new building’s wings.  New Lab is public-private partnership with taking advantage of private investment, tax incentives and public grants to fully realize the facility.” Says Cohen.

Cohen describes the new building as a “transmitter and an receiver” for new ideas. “We recognize that a real manufacturing and renovation renaissance is happening,” he says. “We want to build a facility that serves that community.”

Many companies that originate in New Lab are likely outgrow the space after some years but we believe the Navy Yard is a great campus for companies of all sizes to grow.”  says Cohen.

Glover says, “The only companies that will survive, grow, sustain themselves are those who innovate.”

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