Singapore’s most unlikely makerspace: a sprawling facility hidden in an old industrial estate

home fix experience centre

Cardboard giraffe at a Home-Fix Experience Centre

Home-Fix started out as a traditional mom-and-pop hardware store, but in the past couple of decades it has transformed into a sizable retail chain with over 30 outlets in Singapore and Malaysia.

That unlikely story has taken another unexpected turn: Its headquarters in Tai Seng, one of Singapore’s hubs for small and medium enterprises, is now the host to what is likely the country’s largest makerspace.

At 10,000 square feet, about the size of two basketball courts, the makerspace is housed on the first and second floor of the S$15 million (US$11.8 million) Home-Fix Building, which is also a place to showcase and demo the company’s products.

What is the maker movement?
The maker movement is a subculture that represents a technology-based extension of DIY culture, which emphasizes self-sufficiency in completing tasks without a paid expert. Members of the movement enjoy pursuits like electronics, robotics, 3D printing, as well as the use of manufacturing techniques involving CNC tools, metalworking, woodworking, and traditional art and craft.

The makerspace will have co-working desks, workshops with equipment for wood work and electronics, a prototyping lab, meeting rooms, and a materials store. A cavernous exhibition space, large enough for an autonomous drone to buzz around in, will occupy the ground level.

A fab cafe for socializing is also in the works. The concept has been brought over from Japan, where besides serving usual cafe food, customers can experiment with fabricating iPhone covers, accessories, greeting cards, and more.

Finally, and perhaps most unexpectedly, the building will contain a service center for bicycles. While the combination might seem awkward, Ju Hu Soh, an entrepreneur who’s also a consultant for the makerspace project, explains that makers and cyclists have a lot in common:

“The cycling community tends to be folks who are hands-on, and these are people who are also excited about what other makers do,” he says.

While the center hasn’t officially launched, a showcase event was held in February which drew hundreds of people, including the who’s who of Singapore’s maker community.

Flirting with the maker movement

home fix experience centre

Although Home-Fix, run by founder and managing director Cheong Kee Low, has played a big part in bringing the space to life, the seeds were sown through his interactions with the maker community.

Low, who is sympathetic to the local entrepreneurship cause, has been investing in and mentoring startups through his own accord and a number of initiatives organized by both governmental and private entities.

(See: Interview with Low Cheong Kee, founder of Home-Fix)

Before the makerspace even became official, the community was already drawn to the place even though the building was a long, unsheltered walk away from the nearest train station.

When William Hooi, a key organizer of Singapore’s maker movement, approached Low with the idea of using the Home-Fix HQ to host maker meetups, he was all for it. Hooi even passed him a book about the movement, which he gobbled up immediately.

“I was impressed,” says Low. “I am thankful that we have young Singaporeans who are so hands-on and so willing to make things. I knew I wanted to play a part.”

At the same time Hooi was talking to Low, Soh came into the picture because he was looking for a workshop to develop his projects. Low offered him access to one.

He eventually brought in Soh as a consultant to coordinate the project due to his familiarity with the movement. Soh adds:

“We’re not trying to create another community. We have a space, and we want to work with the existing community.”

A Corporate-backed makerspace

home fix experience centre

In recent years, many spaces have been started to cater to the needs of the hacker community. Some of them, like Hackerspace.SG and 13, are entirely organic, while others, like Block 71 and IDA Labs, have substantial government involvement.

The makerspace at Home-Fix, however, is special because it is a grassroots initiative that is created in collaboration with a relatively large enterprise, and a non-tech one at that.

The larger goal of the project is to turn a group of passionate hardware makers into full-fledged startups.

The community hopes that Home-Fix, with its distribution network and knowledge of packaging, retailing and pricing, can help bring promising new products out to market quickly. Low says:

“Sometimes the best innovations won’t come from within a company; they can be community-based. But we can certainly help to patent and trademark it and then sell it through Home-Fix.”

home-fix meeting room photo: Gabriel Kang

(Photos: lead image by Terence Lee, others by Gabriel Kang)

(Editing by Josh Horwitz)

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