On any given day, you might find someone huddled in a well-lit sound booth at Tyler Innovation Pipeline’s 217 E. Oakwood Street address, craned over a microphone and smooth talking above a tangle of cords.

For as little as $12 a month, anyone in the community can rent out the space – filled with its state-of-the-art recording hardware and the software necessary to produce professional-grade audio – to record sound clips, podcasts or even radio commercials.

But the sound lab – just one small perk offered by the Innovation Pipeline makerspace and its 5,200 square feet of whiteboard walls, green screens, computer labs, and other tools and machinery – has seen a decrease in traffic since the COVID-19 crisis began earlier this year.

“We had a lot of members who had to cancel their memberships because they were suddenly out of a job or who had to move to a new place and get a new job,” the Pipeline’s interim executive director, Trey Cobb, explained late last week.

So many businesses, with bills to pay and struggling with loss of jobs or other concerns, had other priorities when closures came in March, Cobb said.

That meant a decline in memberships – from an average of 200 to 400 at any given time, to only 100 active memberships – that’s left the Pipeline headquarters a little desolate.

As the economy works to recover and the state continues its reopening, that’s something Cobb said he hopes to see change.

“If anybody is looking to create their own business and if they don’t know where to start, if they’re wanting either mentorship, if they’re wanting training or just access to equipment that their business plan would require, Tyler Innovation Pipeline is definitely the place to come to,” Cobb said.

Members who utilize the Innovation Pipeline have full creative control over their products. They also have the opportunity to attend a number of informative classes, like the entrepreneurial empowerment workshop offered through a partnership with WorkHub, that leads a person through the process of beginning a business by offering advice on everything from accounting to legal liability and beyond.

“Our membership is a good mix between people wanting to start their own business and not knowing what to do to start it and then people who already have established businesses that are trying to grow,” Cobb explained.

That’s where the networking comes in.

“A lot of our members will work with each other on projects,” Cobb said. “We have a couple of members who are very experienced with video and audio editing, and they’ve kind of partnered up with some companies that are now podcasting out of our facility.”

Some recent successes out of the Pipeline: a hobbyist who creates and sells 20-sided dice using the laser engraver and 3D printing machine, and a member who created a “popper” prototype to help the elderly and those with certain disabilities better grasp and open blister packaging that houses medication.

“We are wanting our members to outgrow us because that means they’re running a successful business,” Cobb said.

The nonprofit is operated by a board of directors – all community members hoping to promote business growth in the city of Tyler and beyond – and provides equipment, services, classes and training to those who purchase memberships.

More information about the Innovation Pipeline can be found by visiting tylerinnovators.com.

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