Local manufacturer, tool library pair up in benchmark collaboration

David Sali
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Kevin Ford is a man on a mission, and this week he was spreading the gospel at the Ottawa Tool Library.

Invest Ottawa CEO Bruce Lazenby, Ottawa Tool Library co-founder Bettina Vollmerhausen and Michael Ford and Kevin Ford of Onshoring Ventures display the tool library's new work benches.

The serial entrepreneur and his son Michael are the founders of Onshoring Ventures, a local custom manufacturing startup. After years as a federal government procurement officer and later a tech CEO, Mr. Ford got tired of seeing Canadian workers lose their jobs when their employers outsourced manufacturing to countries with cheaper labour such as China.

On Wednesday, he and his son donated a pair of collapsible wooden work benches to the tool library, which will use them in new workshops called Tool 101.

Invest Ottawa covered the cost of one of the benches a fitting gesture, since the agency’s CEO Bruce Lazenby was the one who brought the manufacturer and its new client together at Maker Faire Ottawa last fall.

“I saw Kevin’s group and I saw the tool library and they were literally like 20 feet apart,” Mr. Lazenby said after touring the tool-sharing facility’s home at Makerspace North. “I introduced the two of them and said, ‘Do you know about each other?’ and they said, ‘Sure.’ I said, ‘Kevin, if you donate a bench, I’ll buy a bench’ and on the spot he agreed.”

Mr. Ford launched Onshoring Ventures last February. The former CEO of software firms Parliant Corporation and computerActive said the work bench is a great “test case” to see if his business model will bear fruit because it’s exactly the type of product that can’t be imported cheaply in mass quantities from overseas.

“It’s too big and bulky to ship at a reasonable cost and it takes up too much space in a warehouse,” he said. “Even in retail, that product is probably too big to hold on a shelf because you need a certain value of product per square foot of retail shelf space. We can afford to build dozens or hundreds of them and make very good money off of them.”

Ottawa Tool Library co-founder Bettina Vollmerhausen said the facility, which officially opened at Makerspace North last October, was looking to start hosting workshops but didn’t have room to store big, bulky benches. When she heard of Mr. Ford’s offer to donate the collapsible units, she was thrilled.

“We needed something we can fold away and put away,” she said. “It’s amazing for us.”

The first Tool 101 course, a half-day event this Saturday, will teach participants how to safely use a number of tools, including skillsaws, jigsaws, power drills and palm sanders. Six available spots quickly sold out a cost of $60 each, and organizers are already thinking about staging more workshops on home renovation skills from caulking to tiling.

Ms. Vollmerhausen said the tool library, which relies on membership fees for most of its funding, has applied for a number of government grants but has yet to receive any. A crowdfunding campaign last year raised more than $15,000, and she hopes the workshops, which are taught by volunteers, will also become a steady source of revenue.

The facility now has more than 1,000 tools and household appliances ranging from power drills and electric saws to rakes and irons. Nearly 300 members pay a $50 annual fee that allows them unlimited borrowing privileges.

“People are loving this,” Ms. Vollmerhausen said. “You’re not going to buy an $800 tool to build a headboard. You can come and borrow it now.”

Organizations: Onshoring Ventures, Maker Faire, Parliant Tool Library

Geographic location: Ottawa, China

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