By Diana Limbach Lempel
“This is my new project,” Chris Templeman of Templeman Automation likes to say. He’s a tinkerer, a problem solver. In his office, part of the converted Ames Envelope factory on Properzi Way, prototypes for new hardware projects are strewn about the floor and tables — a hacked Playstation here, a robot kit there. Then there’s the shop, and this is where Templeman gets really excited. It’s filled with wood saws, CNC router machines, and more tools than I can count or name. This is a business committed to innovation through experimentation and personal connection to technology, and it is thriving.
Chris Templeman started his company ten years ago, primarily on contracts with the Department of Defense funded through Small Business Innovation Research Grants for R&D. This program is great, he said, because it allows the small businesses to retain the intellectual property on its projects, hopefully giving them the opportunity to develop a successful innovation business. Templeman and his team used lots of open source software in order to build their products. Now that the business is established, he’s experimenting with ways to give back to the collaborative community that he benefitted from.
What I especially like about Templeman’s approach to his business is the clear thread he sees between his work and Somerville’s commercial past. “History lingers,” he tells me. The shop is located in the Ames factory’s old machine shop. He loves that today the businesses sharing this space — furniture makers, screen printers, model builders, and more — keep manufacturing and fabrication alive in a building originally constructed for that purpose. When I ask him about the tech industry in New England, he explains that the Northeast is “the place” for hardware companies, not just because it’s home to education centers like MIT and business clusters like the Rte. 128 corridor, but also due to the region’s manufacturing legacy.
Chris Templeman and Templeman Automation encapsulates the richness of Union Square businesses: history, community, innovation, experimentation. Small businesses, big clients, super-sized impact.
Here’s more, in Chris Templeman’s words.
DA: Why is Somerville the right place for you?
CT: Templeman Automation started in my basement, here in Somerville, and now that I’ve moved to an office I still like to be here. All of the guys who work here also live in Somerville, in a 1 mile radius. They live in Union, in Davis. We like the short commute. I also like that Union Square has tech nerds and art people together, which brings people together who look at problems from multiple angles. Artists also make a place more interesting — it’s no good to have a monoculture, especially now that our products are becoming more customer-centric and we need to collaborate with creative people to make our products better.
DA: What is the hottest thing going on at your business right now?
CT: We’ve started working on two projects that will produce DIY kits to enable experimentation and tinkering at home. One of them is a kit for a “touch table,” a large cube with a 32-inch screen that combines with a modified projector in order to create a customizable touch-screen computer. The other is a “personal PCR,” an at-home kit to replicate DNA for genetics experiments. Our model is Sparkfund, a company in Colorado that’s made a successful business out of kits for electronic experiments. These are our first consumer products, and I’m excited to interact with like-minded people.
DA: What’s different about the tech community now, versus a decade or two ago?
CT: The same people are experimenting, but now we’re better funded, with business and technology connections. It’s hacking grows up.
DA: What to you hope Templeman Automation will be known for in the future?
CT: There’s no one product, or one project, that I want us to be known for. I want us to be known as a place to go to solve problems.