Design Engineering

Montreal-based CollectivLabs reimagines what maker spaces could be

Devin Jones   

General Materials Machine Building Montreal

Members can sign up to use the 7,500 square foot space, featuring a metal, wood and electronics workshop that all come equipped with tools needed for a project.


Founder David Barabé/All photos courtesy of Barabé.

As far as makers labs are concerned, Montreal-based CollectivLabs is out to accomplish something a little different.

Founded in the summer of 2017 by mechanical engineer David Barabé, it’s one part playground for him, and two parts professional production facility for the 12 members who are currently registered and using the space.

“In university we had access to these facilities where you could just create all the time and build different things. But then when you graduate and go to work for a engineering company, that gets taken away a little bit because they have people whose job it is to do that,” Barabé says.

Having started a engineering design firm Dix Au Carré with a friend out of university, Barabé’s passion always focused on the creation and development of new projects – whether as a personal hobby or professional contract. But as the responsibilities of being a boss to a number of employees increased, Barabé missed the ability to create and work in a collaborative environment. With paperwork and managerial tasks getting in the way of why he became an engineer in the first place, Barabe made the hard decision to sell the company to his partner. 


“The standard model for running a business just wasn’t for me. You have to be the boss even when you tell your employees that you aren’t, and they still treat you like one,” Barabé says. “You don’t have the same approach to collaboration when it works like that and in the end all of the management stuff takes up all of your time.”


Members of CollectivLabs take a break from an ongoing project.

While the name of the business and its contracts moved on, Barabé was able to keep all of the equipment, accomplishing half the battle of being able to run what is—for all intents and purposes—a high-end, professional-grade makers lab.

Members can sign up to use the 7,500 square foot space, which features a metal, wood and electronics workshop that all come equipped with tools needed for a project. For example, in the metal manufacturing space, there’s a host of welding gear, high precision CNC lathes and different micrometric instruments. On the wood working side, members have access to a 4 ‘x 3’ multifunction laser, a Festo guide saw, and a autoclave 5 ‘long x 32’ ‘dia. for the work of composite materials. 

Most members use the space on a month-to-month basis, but some have committed to more of a long-term contract with the space. Also, because Barabé is looking to foster a collective sense of trust, “we allow some people to just drop by when they need to use the tools, but we first need to get to know them and see how they work.”


The mobile climbing wall that Nomad Bloc created in CollectivLabs.

What’s interesting about CollectivLabs, is the push for people to work together on their various projects – even hiring different members with specific skill sets to help complete commercial projects. For example, one of the members of has 25 years of experience in engineering design and laser cutting, but couldn’t afford the expensive equipment needed to start his own business. According to Barabé, that member started his business within CollectivLabs, using the equipment provided and Barabé helps out when he can.

Another cool project that ColletivLabs helped facilitate from ideation to completion is a 100 ft long 15 ft tall mobile climbing wall that local startup Nomad Bloc was looking to create. After Babacar Daoust-Cissé and his partners struck up a working relationship with Barabe, it took them 12 months to complete the project and the climbing wall is at located  at the Angus Technopôle until the end of October.

CollectivLabs as a business also takes on contracts, with the funds being put back into the space for new equipment and eventual expansion. Recently Barabé and other members worked on a 25 ft, thousand pound stainless steel structure for an artist living in Montreal. For Barabé it was a perfect example of what he wants the space to be: designers and engineers using their individual skills on a project from ideation to completion.

“You know we’ve technically been open since last summer, and we gave members a discount while we built the space out, and a lot of the people here helped us put everything together,”Barabé  says. “And to me that’s really indicative of what I wanted this space to be.”

Currently 12 members are signed up and using the space. Barabé believes the space can accommodate 24 before it begins to get crowded and the CollectivLabs is primed for expansion in the next 18 months.


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