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Community Highlights: Meet Ryan Schemmel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Schemmel. Them and their team share their story with us below:

In 2011, Josh Cooper and Ryan Schemmel set out to open a makerspace, providing tools and resources to the public. With a little less than $5k, they opened their first location.

Over the next 10 years, Fort Houston helped incubate hundreds of makers, artists, and small businesses, while acting as a creative anchor of activity in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood.

Early in its inception, Fort Houston, with its vast network of fabricators, was able to additionally operate as a fabrication company, helping conceptualize, design, fabricate, and install various installations for music festivals, hotels, and events.

As of 2019, the makerspace is operating under its non-profit arm, now called “The Forge” while the fabrication business continues to serve various clients in the event industry.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Nope, not at all. The biggest struggle presented for Fort Houston over the years was pricing itself out of the real estate. Our business model was directly tied to the cost per square foot when leasing spaces.

The core of the makerspace model was selling memberships to use our various shops, and each time we grew the creative scene in our neighborhood, it made that area more desirable. It has always been a goal to own our own property to help incubate the creative class, but unfortunately, we have moved through 4 locations as rental prices increased, mostly due to our own activity. A good problem to have?

As for the fabrication side of the business, the first time we installed something we were only 23 years old and had zero ideas about how the business side of things operated.

I think it’s safe to say that after 10 years of fabricating and installing pieces, learning to work with clients’ needs, and understanding the environment in which we are installing a piece has helped us be more realistic with our installations and not over-promise something we cannot deliver.

Also water. You can never have enough water to drink on an install.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Fort Houston?
My name is Ryan Schemmel and I handled the business and community outreach side of Fort Houston, while my partner Josh Cooper focused on our fabrication company. Since then, I have produced many events and activations under the Fort Houston brand, along with consulting various regions on how to grow their creative class.

In the last year, I have used my event and activation production experience with Fort Houston to pivot into a few film/commercial production projects. At the end of the day, the thing I am most proud of brand-wise was connecting with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips and putting together an immersive art experience with him at our facility. It was a long two-year process, but we secured the funding and it was a wonderful experience for the community.

Another piece of wisdom I like to live by is “You can’t fabricate culture. It is a natural process.” I say this because many people involved in community development want to know how we did it – how did Fort Houston become a hub for so many positive things in a neighborhood, and the answer is because we kind of did it unintentionally.

The moment there is a lot of money behind something like that, creatives/makers, etc. in your community start to smell it, and it begins to feel inauthentic. So yeah… make the process of growing your business as natural as possible!

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I have a 100lb rottweiler named Rooster who is my pride and joy and I hate sweet potatoes.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
King’s Mouth with Wayne Coyne, Beau Burgess, and Beyond Content

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