Housing Complex

High-Tech Workspace Coming to Boilermaker Shops


The space in the Boilermaker Shops building that will soon become Ideaspace.

D.C. has seen a recent boom in business incubators and startup spaces. There's 1776, the downtown tech hub and accelerator that aims to help startups capitalize on the political power scene. There's The Hive, which brings the incubator model across the Anacostia River. But until now, there hasn't been a space for people who just want to play with robots.

Enter Ideaspace. The new venture will occupy the entire second floor of the Boilermaker Shops in the Capitol Riverfront's Yards project, plus a retail space on Tingey Street SE. For $99 a month, members will gain access to robotics and electronics equipment, event space, meeting rooms, and a lounge. There will also be classes for an additional fee.

"There’s no one place to go to where you can explore your other interests outside of startups, development, things like that," says Ideaspace's David Naffis. "So we want to create that space. Short of going to a university, there’s nowhere that I can go to learn about topics on science and engineering and have a lab to apply that knowledge to make and build things."

Ideaspace will join the Bluejacket brewery, Nando's Peri-Peri, and other shops in the Boilermaker building. The first-floor space will house project workspaces, materials storage, and a reception area, while the second floor will comprise the majority of Ideaspace. The venture will occupy a total of about 16,000 square feet.

Unlike standard incubators, Ideaspace won't have dedicated desks. Instead, members will get to play with high-tech tools like a water jet cutter and plasma cutter in an open space, as well as rent out garages to work on projects. "We believe we’re inventing a new product category," says Naffis' partner Yoshi Maisami. "We’re attempting to create a combination of a 'maker space,' collaboration lounge, event space, and classroom."

Naffis says he and his partners looked at a number of potential sites in D.C. and Maryland before Capitol Riverfront Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner David Garber introduced them to Forest City, the developer behind The Yards. "We just kind of fell in love with it," Naffis says of the space in the Boilermaker Shops. "The whole area has a rich history of industry. The boilermaker, they used to make boilers for Navy ships there. It lends itself quite well to our concept."

The team considered cheaper, warehouse-like spaces farther from the center of D.C., but ultimately decided the extra cost at the Boilermaker Shops was worth it. "While we may be paying a little bit of a premium on the space, we feel it’s worthwhile to our end goal of being more accessible to everyone," Naffis says. Maisami says he hopes to take advantage of the proximity of high-tech projects at the nearby U.S. Department of Transportation and Naval Research Laboratory. He's spoken with students at George Washington University who are working on robots to assist the elderly—a project he thinks could tie in to the efforts at DOT or NRL.

Ideaspace has not yet begun accepting applications for membership, but Naffis says hundreds of people have signed up for the email list. He's shooting for an opening in the first quarter of next year.

Photo courtesy of Ideaspace