Women student co-op opens for business in Chicago

APA's Mech Creations makes trumpet mouthpieces

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By La Risa Lynch

Contributing Reporter

At the age of 18, Brandi Scott is a business owner.

She is part of a student-run business cooperative that hopes to hit a high note in the music industry. Scott is one of four female owners of Mech Creations, based in the Austin Polytechnical Academy, 231 N. Pine Ave.

The company manufactures trumpet mouthpieces that Mech Creations hopes to sell commercially online, in music stores, to musicians and concert symphonies. But the young company already envisions expanding its product offerings.

"I'm excited that I'm gonna be an owner of a manufacturing business," said 18-year-old Scott, an APA senior. "I never knew I was going to do that."

The all-female-run business is breaking stereotypes. People mistakenly believe girls are disinterested in manufacturing, but the group is proving them wrong.

"That is why I want to go to college and do this — so my little sister could look up to me," said fellow owner Rashad Kemp, 18.

Kemp's passion for manufacturing led her to seize the chance to be part of this venture.

"I feel excited. I just joined two weeks ago. I love manufacturing. That is why I joined," said the APA senior, who plans to attend Vincennes University in Indiana.

Mech Creations grew out of an after-school program last year where students learned entrepreneurial skills, including crafting a business plan. That plan morphed into an actual business, but it had no product to manufacture. That's when their machine shop teacher, Pablo Varela, suggested making mouthpieces for trumpets.

"We just took that and ran with it," said APA senior Desiree Wordlaw, 19.

Although operating in name only due to liability issues with Chicago Public Schools, the company already has made inroads in creating one-of-a-kind mouthpieces in the school's machine shop.

The company makes three trumpet mouthpieces, one of which has a patent pending and is called the lollipop, so named for its shape. Other trumpet mouthpieces include the pasada, shaped like a wine bottle and the hourglass-shaped Euterpe, aptly named for the daughter of Greek god Zeus. Varela, an avid trumpet player, designed the mouthpieces.

"Lollipop … is actually patented, and that is our own special-made trumpet mouthpiece," Wordlaw said.

Valera said the mouthpiece is an alternative to the one-size-fits-all brands mass-produced overseas. Mech Creations' mouthpieces strike a "mathematical balance" that gives musicians a "combination of comfort, sound quality and projection." The sound it makes is a "darker" or softer sound, Valera said.

Mech Creations is a partnership between APA and Manufacturing Renaissance, a founding organization of the manufacturing-focused school. The goal was to give students real-life experience in operating a manufacturing business, with the vision of revitalizing Austin's once-thriving manufacturing districts.

In its prime, Austin housed 25,000 manufacturing positions. Now it is down to 2,000. Through the company, students learn how to create a purchase order, develop a marketing plan and manufacture products on lathe machines.

Valera hopes the company will become a subcontractor to receive orders for other products beyond the trumpet mouthpieces. The company is modeled after a manufacturing cooperative based in Spain's Basque region. The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation started as a polytechnical school, similar to APA, to train youth in manufacturing 60 years ago.

Now it is the largest worker-owned manufacturing cooperative in the world.

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Jane Livingston from Bangor  

Posted: May 23rd, 2013 4:39 PM

you go girls!! this is a great story unfolding I will follow it eagerly. thank you for being such bright lights in tough times.

dan swinney from chicago  

Posted: May 22nd, 2013 7:45 AM

nicely done article. this is a big event--practically and symbolically for Austin and the City of Chicago. Something similar happened in Mondragon, Spain 60 years ago and now they have over 100 companies employing 130,000 people and are an international model for sustainable development.

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