Newly Formed CANopener Labs Aims to Turn Innovators’ Ideas into Reality

click to enlarge CANopener Labs founder Dale Bracey works on a project. - COURTESY PHOTO / CANOPENER LABS
Courtesy Photo / CANopener Labs
CANopener Labs founder Dale Bracey works on a project.
Characteristic of their unconventional approach to San Antonio’s tech startup scene, the co-founders of CANopener Labs broke out one of Elon Musk’s “Not-A-Flame” Throwers at the facility’s soft launch party in mid-July.

In the large yard adjacent to the warehouse space full of industrial machinery, guests enjoyed lighting tiki torches and shooting fire into the open for the first time.

It was a symbolic move.

CANOpener partners Drue Placette, Dale Bracey and David Elam want to torch one of the biggest barriers faced by local tech entrepreneurs — the cost of manufacturing products during the development stage. That barrier can be one of the toughest for fledgling ventures to overcome.

The 6,000-square-foot lab, located at 1235 Safari St. at the northern edge of the airport, will offer the founders’ product development expertise plus a collection of advanced manufacturing tools to allow people in all industries to create prototypes. The founders have a combined 40 years’ experience at businesses including Rackspace, Wisewear and other tech ventures.

click to enlarge Company founder Drue Placette - COURTESY PHOTO / CANOPENER LABS
Courtesy Photo / CANopener Labs
Company founder Drue Placette
“It’s a way to enable people and the community to take ideas out of their head. Opening your ‘can,’ that’s what it’s really about,” said Placette, a hardware developer once named a Tech Titan by the San Antonio Business Journal. “We have commercial and industrial equipment, stuff you couldn’t normally get access to.”

“A lot of times you don’t get the tinker knowledge unless you have access to something,” added Bracey, who worked at tech giant Rackspace for almost 15 years. “You can read all you want, but the moment you touch it it’s different.”

The seed for a community prototyping space was planted about five years ago with a 3D printer Placette placed in technology incubator Geekdom for members to use for free.

“People started making their own stuff, making their products, so that spun into a bigger community effort,” Bracey said.

CANopener will also host on-site classes to help people understand prototyping and how to approach the manufacturing process.

“We do consultations on things to help them form an idea, and we’re going to want to expand out and start having a makerspace,” Placette said.

What's more, the company is lining up industry partners to help build clients’ ideas into businesses. In pointing clients to additional resources that can help them develop a path to market, they hope to keep new businesses in San Antonio and Texas.

The trio pitched in to cover the entire cost of opening CANopener, essentially making a personal investment in the growth of startups in San Antonio.

“San Antonio has amazing people and amazing talent. We need to be who we are and quit trying to be Austin,” Placette said. “These people deserve the opportunity to rise, and for me that’s really important.”

Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.