Shawnee & Lenexa

The Device Shop carves out a niche among incubators

Co-owner Jeff Alholm of The Device Shop says, “The diversity of what we do is both the hard part and the fun part.”
Co-owner Jeff Alholm of The Device Shop says, “The diversity of what we do is both the hard part and the fun part.” Submitted photo

The Device Shop in Shawnee is a business incubator that doesn’t look like one, says its co-owner, Jeff Alholm. It has the traditional office spaces, yes. But also inside the 9,200-square-foot operation near Shawnee’s downtown are labs, workshops and highly specialized equipment for entrepreneurs who need support in moving their businesses to the next level.

“It’s hardly a traditional incubator,” Alholm said.

The business, which opened in 2015, is aimed at meeting the needs of people who invent and develop tangible and often technical products, rather than computer software or applications, he said. Often these businesses need access to expensive equipment to get their products tested and ready for the market. The shop offers that, plus guidance from experts in technical fields.

Q. How does your business work?

The incubator industry arose as a way of helping people who want to start a business but don’t have access to the office space or equipment. People who need the Device Shop’s services get in touch and submit a business plan. Based on that, the shop works out what kind of arrangements the client may need, Alholm said. That could be as simple as paying rent for access to the space and equipment to an equity or other type of arrangement involving more technical help from the shop’s own design team of contracted experts in a variety of fields.

The shop provides a lot of services for young businesses, he said. In addition to the technical advice, the incubator helps with applying for patents and seeing the invention through the testing and fabrication stages. It also has conference rooms and offices with full broadband Internet access, workshop space, and training in business-building strategies.

Q. What makes this different from a hobbyist’s maker space?

Probably the biggest difference, and a point of pride with Alholm, is the quality of equipment and access to experts. The shop has hard-to-come-by and often expensive equipment that even some existing companies don’t have, he said. For instance, the shop has radio frequency equipment and access to experts in that field that rival Garmin, he said.

“What we do is unique,” Alholm said. “We have the hardware and the stature in town. I don’t know where else (a business) would go but here.”

The Device Shop offers fabrication and testing equipment for mechanical and electronic projects, Alholm said. Most of the workshop space is open access, but the more advanced equipment is offered for hourly or daily fees.

Q. What types of businesses are your typical clients?

The shop tends to attract two types of clients: start-ups looking to make prototypes and simulations that don’t have access to equipment and may need some training, and established businesses that need engineering services to develop new products.

Steinlite Inc., of Atchison Kan., is an example of the latter. That company makes meters that measure the moisture content of grain samples. The company has used the Design Shop’s services to develop and test new products, which will then be manufactured elsewhere, Alholm said.

Q. Why did you locate in Shawnee?

“It all comes down to real estate,” Alholm said. The location near the interstate was part of the reason, along with the fact that Johnson County has been a hot spot for start-ups within a metro area that is encouraging them. The city of Shawnee also helped get the Device Shop going, with a loan from its Economic Development Fund intended to encourage business growth in the city.

Q. What are the biggest challenges of running your incubator?

“The diversity of what we do is both the hard part and the fun part,” Alholm said.

Each business coming in has a different type of product that comes with different obstacles to production.

“Our job is to figure you how do you make something sustainable from a business standpoint,” he said.

Q. What kind of background do you have that led you into this business?

Alholm, 56, studied engineering at the University of Kansas, a school known then for its computer graphics. After college, he worked with many start-ups and served on the boards of some other incubators, including the Enterprise Center of Johnson County.

In a nutshell

Company: The Device Shop

Address: 10316 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Shawnee, Kan. 66203

Telephone: 913 735-6112