Shenango Businesses Use Valley Fab Lab to Expand

SHARON, Pa. — By moving Brohana Products and Services from incubation at eCenter@LindenPointe to the Valley Fab Lab inside Laurel Technical Institute, co-founders Jacob Morgan and Robert Studor were able to use equipment there, such as in-house laser engravers, to custom-label the packaging for their beard care and men’s products.

Those laser machines run $40,000 to $70,000, something Brohana could not afford to do on its own, Studor says. Having access to the equipment saved his company roughly $20,000 in labeling.

“Being able to access rather expensive, high-quality machinery was a game changer for Brohana,” Morgan says. “We were able to innovate incredibly quickly, prototype products and packaging for over 60 items, and establish a distinct brand in the process. 

They were the initial group trained by the Carnegie Science Center Fab Lab prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As their experience with the equipment and design competency improved, Morgan and Studor branched into niche markets, thus stabilizing its revenue “despite the inability to pursue distribution channels that we relied on pre-pandemic,” Morgan says.

Robert Studor, co-owner of Brohana Products & Services, with trays of freeze-dried snacks.

Eventually, the company expanded further into freeze-dried snacks and treats, artwork and other items. On this day, they were preparing some of the company’s freeze-dried products, including Milk Duds and gummy bears.

“We were able to grow our business in the fab lab while everybody else was quarantined,” Studor says.

Since opening in January 2020, the Valley Fab Lab has been used for educational purposes and to help start-up businesses. The Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce rents that space inside Laurel Technical Institute, which had its official grand opening in late June 2021.

Olivia Brown, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber and administrator of the Fab Lab, says it hosts area groups and schools to utilize the makerspace.

“To have a one-stop shop I think is what’s been nice to help stimulate the area,” she says.

Whole Life Services, The Guardian’s Nest, Random Acts of Artists Inc., Laurel Technical Institute and the City of Sharon applied for grants around $200,000 to start the Fab Lab with 3D printers, laser engravers, a fabric printer, and large project printers. Those printers have $1,200 of ink in them, Brown says. 

“It was a collaborative grant application,” she says. “We thought that it would be a great idea to create a makerspace here for young entrepreneurs to come out and help get their business started.”

In January 2021, Brohana’s Morgan and Studor were hired by Laurel Technical Institute as entrepreneur instructors and special project coordinators. They helped develop the business backend, marketing materials and training materials to teach others how to use each of the machines, Morgan says.

Beard oil bottles engraved by Brohana at the Fab Lab.

“This experience also led to the development of a new Makerspace course for entrepreneur students at [Laurel Technical Institute],” he adds.

Laura Kahl, special programs manager and head of information technology at Whole Life Services, guided her friend’s 14-year-old son on how to make a logo at the Fab Lab for its lawn care business. The young entrepreneur wanted to make T-shirts to advertise his brand, Kahl says. His friends were intrigued by the shirts and wanted to buy them.

“He ended up selling $200 worth of T-shirts out of his school because he was able to come down to a fab lab and produce something,” Kahl says. “That has created this entrepreneurial spirit in him. He now wants to look more into some type of business in the future. It’s great just for education and developing that entrepreneurial spirit in younger generations.”

Whole Life Services looks for inclusion and participation opportunities in the community for its special needs clientele. On Tuesday, the nonprofit had a class of about a half-dozen people working on wooden engravings, crafts, T-shirts, stickers and other products made in the Fab Lab and sold at Studio C – a consignment store at Whole Life Services selling those items and others made throughout the community.

“We looked at it so that we can have them integrate into the community so they can use it for everybody,” says Jonathan Richardson, special program manager at the Fab Lab and Whole Life Services. “They can interact with the community, interact and get access to technology.”

Pictured at top: Whole Life Services special programs managers Jonathan Richardson and Laura Kahl, and Olivia Brown, executive director, Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce, display items made at the Fab Lab.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.