SHERIDAN — Steve Butler and Spencer Kuzara met about three years ago through a mutual interest in computer programming. They began discussing ideas and occasionally worked together on projects.
Throughout their conversations, an idea emerged. Butler and Kuzara wanted more people to learn about and work together on technology and also to spread the word about computer science.
Phorge Makerspace, which began a few months ago, was the result. The nonprofit began in January under the name Wyoming STEM Lab but recently changed its name. Kuzara is the president and Butler is the vice president. The main goals of Phorge Makerspace are to connect professionals in fields like technology, manufacturing, software and engineering fields who have similar interests and to help educate the general public about computer science and coding.
Flood Marketing helped come up with the new name for the first organization of its kind in Sheridan.
“Instead of limiting the name to something strictly technological or scientific (generally speaking) we chose the word ‘forge,’ which at its basest meaning represents the act of making, shaping or creating,” Flood Marketing lead graphic designer Kristen Masters wrote in an email. “Forge being a fairly straightforward term, we wanted to take wordplay a bit further conceptually by adding a ‘ph’ in place of the ‘f’ — still phonetically correct, but now paying homage to the idea of the ‘maker’ even more symbolically through the persona of Hephaestus, the mythical Greek god of craftsmen, artisans and other ‘makers.’”
Phorge Makerspace hosted its first public meeting session under the new name Monday evening at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library. It was the first of 13 meetings that will take place every two weeks at the library. The meeting focused on a few 3-D models that people brought. Kuzara showed a Nintendo Entertainment System that he custom-made. Sheridan College student Ben Conklin showed off a rough version of a robotic arm that he was inspired to make after seeing Iron Man in an “Avengers” movie.
Phorge Makerspace is in its infancy and is currently a part-time effort for its administrators. Phorge has a seven-person steering committee but no physical location yet. Most of the meetings have taken place at the library during evenings or weekends, since everyone involved has full-time jobs elsewhere. Butler is the founder and CEO of Cypher Software — which began in June 2017 and makes software for IT providers — where Kuzara works as a developer.
Butler said it was tough to get interest initially but that Phorge slowly built a consistent following. The core group that has been at most of the meetings consists of about 10 people and includes Vacutech employees and Sheridan College machine tool students.
The group is focusing on education and community aspects before acquiring a physical space and looking seriously at funding. It plans to have a booth at upcoming Third Thursdays and will likely host a few introductory coding events.
Butler wants to change the mindset in Wyoming from hesitancy to encouragement in regards to these growing fields.
“I just want to see the whole mentality around this sort of thing change in Sheridan and Wyoming in general,” Butler said. “I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that here,’ or, ‘It’s too hard to do in a place like this.’ I think that’s just wrong, so the best way to prove that is to do it.”
The makerspace idea is similar to some of the suggestions from Gov. Matt Mead’s Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming. The ENDOW Executive Council recommended the creation of Startup: Wyoming to help build Wyoming’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and to directly invest more than $10 million in broadband access around the state, particularly in rural areas.
Moreover, the Wyoming Legislature approved a bill earlier this year that adds computer science and computational thinking to the state’s education requirements.
Butler is hoping to eventually broaden the company’s reach to Buffalo and possibly Gillette, where a makerspace already exists. But for now, the group is focusing on the Sheridan area.
Phorge Makerspace members see the organization as a meeting place for a Weatherby employee to receive training on utilizing 3-D tools, or a group of middle-schoolers to learn a coding language.
“With manufacturing coming in, we can kind of help manufacturers learn new things,” Butler said. “We can be a playground for some new technologies.”
A year from now, Butler hopes to have a physical location for the company, one or two full-time employees and a few regular classes and meetings.
“It’s probably pretty ambitious to say that we have a space and actually have some space for people to come and make things, but I think it’s doable,” Butler said. “We have a lot of people who are really motivated to get it done.”
The organization is just getting started but is forging ahead into unchartered territory in Sheridan.