In just 10 days, supporters of Madison maker space Sector67 and its founder, Chris Meyer, topped the $100,000 mark in a fundraising campaign to finish remodeling the nonprofit’s new space and to help Meyer and his wife, Heather Wentler, pay their bills as Meyer recovers from burns he suffered in an accident at the site last month.
That’s more than twice the initial fundraising target, $50,000, which was reached within 48 hours. And the donations keep coming.
As of Friday, more than $105,620 had been raised, with contributions from about 800 people.
“It’s surprising just in the sheer volume of money raised,” said Forrest Woolworth, chief operating officer of PerBlue, a Madison mobile game development company, who helped launch the GoFundMe campaign.
“It’s not as surprising when you realize just how much of an impact Chris has on the community ... how many people believe in what he’s doing and want to help him,” Woolworth said.
Meyer’s condition was upgraded to good on Friday at UW Hospital’s burn unit. He was injured in an accident on Sept. 20 at 56 Corry St., the metal building that is being revamped to become the new home for Sector67.
‘I’m just speechless’
Wentler said Meyer was moving a steel beam column when it fell onto a propane tank used to run a forklift. Propane gas was released and a spark from the forklift caused a propane flash explosion, she said. The Madison Fire Department has not released a report yet on its investigation.
The accident happened five minutes after Wentler left the Corry Street building. A neighbor across the street heard the steel beam fall, helped Meyer get out of the building and called 911, Wentler said.
Meyer suffered burns on 40 percent of his body — his head, arms, back and neck, Wentler said. Most were second-degree burns and some were more serious third-degree burns, affecting tissue below the skin.
Last week, Meyer had surgery to receive skin grafts on his arms. Some came from skin on his legs and some were StrataGraft, a skin tissue developed by Stratatech, a Madison company now owned by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which is conducting clinical trials on the product.
“Chris was super-excited when he was given the opportunity to be part of that,” Wentler said. “Every day, we’re seeing big strides in his road to recovery.” She said the nurses keep telling her about Meyer’s ideas for improving their medical tools and which Sector67 members can help them.
Meyer and Wentler, both 32 and natives of the Edgerton area, started dating in high school and have been together 16 years.
“We don’t even have words to articulate how much we appreciate the support we’ve received from the community. I’m just speechless,” Wentler said.
She said she doesn’t know how much longer Meyer will be in the hospital, but has been told it will be a year or two before he is back to full strength.
Wentler is co-founder of the Doyenne Group, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship for women, and founder of Fractal, a program for children in science, technology, engineering, art and math. The classes are offered, mainly during vacation times, at Sector67.
Sector67, founded in 2010, has a wide variety of equipment, including 3-D printers, laser cutters, wood and welding shops, computers, a car lift and sewing machines. It offers classes to people of all ages.
It originally was slated to be a key component of the StartingBlock Madison entrepreneurial hub under construction in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, but Meyer later pulled out of the plans, largely because of the financial terms.
Sector67’s new location will double the size of its current leased location, 2100 Winnebago St. The nonprofit bought the Corry Street building in February.
“We’re in the midst of a phenomenal transformation as an organization to a more mature nonprofit with paid staff and enhanced programming,” said Scott Hasse, a Sector67 board member who is serving as interim leader while Meyer is recovering.
Hasse said members have been helping with the remodeling project, and other volunteers have pitched in. “A guy tuned up our forklift for free. We needed some real quick advice on a plumbing situation and had a local plumber step up,” he said. Employees of Tormach, a Waunakee CNC (computer numerical control) machine company, have offered welding services.
Hasse said he hopes local contractors will get involved, too. “We’re raising the roof 10 feet in the air, so there’s a lot of steel work, a lot of concrete work, and there will be carpentry work when the walls are up,” he said.
Sector67 plans to have the new space ready by March 2018. That’s when it has to be out of its current location, which will be transformed into co-housing and a home for Madison Circus Space, Hasse said.
‘A super hero’
Donations are coming from around the community, as some comments on the GoFundMe website show:
“Sector67 kindly hosted my son’s Lego team last fall, free of charge. Paying that kindness back,” wrote one donor.
One contributor called Meyer “a super hero.” Another said he is “a gleaming example of what’s right with the world. Keep inspiring.”
“Chris, Heather, and Sector67 are an unbelievable force for good. And not just regular old boring good—really exciting, scrumptious, inspiring good,” said another.
Woolworth, PerBlue CEO Justin Beck and Meyer were UW-Madison students together, involved in many of the same activities. Beck and Meyer were roommates at Chadbourne Hall in their freshman year and have remained close friends.
“(Meyer’s) passion for fueling the creativity and ability to enable builders and makers to actually be able to envision their dreams (is something) he and I both share,” Beck said.
John Neis, executive managing director of the Venture Investors investment firm, met Meyer when Neis served as a judge for a UW business plan competition in which Meyer pitched the concept for Sector67. Since then, Neis and his wife, artist Chele Isaac, have become friends with Meyer and Wentler, who stayed at their home for a year and will return there for Meyer’s recovery. Neis and Isaac have contributed $25,000 on top of the GoFundMe total and urged others to donate, too.
Sector67 is “a unique and important asset in this community” that goes far beyond a place that provides machines and tools, Neis wrote on the GoFundMe website. “He is eager to teach others, from kids to those with advanced degrees, delivered with his disarming grin, giving people confidence that they can do new things where they thought they lacked the skills or know-how.”