Maple Studios: A place to grow

Grace Technologies helps others get a good start

Tanner Rogers, left, and Alex Baker of Strategic Automation Services are shown in the Maple Studios area located inside Grace Technologies at 1515 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

Alex Baker and Tanner Rogers have big plans and hopes for their new company – Strategic Automation Services (SAS).

The two men are designing and building collaborative robots – or “cobots” – that can be used in manufacturing. Recently, they have been working on a cobot to hold a handheld grinder that will be used to do many jobs in a factory. (According to the company website, SAS also specializes in robotics, weld cell design, automation cell design, robotic programming, end-of-arm tooling and more.)


Their goals with all that machinery are big: build the company up, get clients for their products, hire employees and be a major company in the region.

“In five years, we see ourselves as a premier automation supplier in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas. We are already working on plans within the next year or so to purchase our own facility as well as hire employees,” said Mr. Baker.

But before any of that can happen, a lot of work needs to be done with the new company. Just a few months ago, the two were getting that work done in Mr. Rogers’ house, where he has office space on the second floor. But much of the cobot assembly work was being done in his garage.

Today, SAS is moving forward on its five-year plan. It recently set up shop in a business studio environment that is meant to help small tech businesses grow, develop and perhaps become one of the region’s future major employers. It’s called Maple Studios, and it’s located within the walls of Grace Technologies at 1515 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport.

Maple Studios was set up a few months ago at Grace, which is an electrical safety device manufacturer founded in 1991. Maple Studios’ goal is to be a business incubator of sorts. It provides space, equipment, administrative support – and most of all, the expertise and experience of other business professionals – to help a business grow from a good idea to an actual business that makes products, employs people and helps the local economy.

“Having an idea is one thing, but making it happen is another,” said Drew Allen, president and CEO of Grace Technologies. “We are bringing this concept to the Quad Cities because we believe in the brilliant ideas and people here. This partnership will have a significant social economic impact on the Quad Cities by offering a platform to help emerging entrepreneurs fast-track their development.”

He added “The QC needs additional help for early-stage companies for talent, capital, and resources, and this strategic collaboration aligns perfectly with our dedication to fostering innovation and driving progress.”

Mr. Allen told the QCBJ that he visited the original Maple Studios, housed on Ramco Innovations’ campus in West Des Moines, and decided the same business model could work in the Quad Cities.

So, last fall, Mr. Allen decided to take part of the 45,000 square feet available at Grace’s facility in Davenport and turn it into a new Maple Studios to help a young company in the technology and industrial sectors get a good start.

Some of the equipment and services offered to the new company include: workspace, decks, workbenches, warehouse space, and a lot of on-site expertise in sensors, robotics, machine safety, factory automation components and much more.

It’s that expertise and experience that could really help new businesses develop, Mr. Allen said.

“When they have a problem, we have people here who can help. We have people who say ‘We had that same problem five years ago.’ And they offer solutions,” he added.

Currently, Grace Technologies is aiming to have three business startups in the building as part of its Maple Studios. SAS became the first company, to join Maple Studios a few months ago. Grace leaders are hoping a second startup will join in the near future. However, “this company is in the very early stages of forming” and still doesn’t even have a name, said Hana Strickler, director of finance and IT with Grace.

SAS, on the other hand, is moving past those early stages. The company continues to move forward with the help of Maple Studios and Grace Technologies.

Mr. Baker added that in the past few months SAS has been able to meet experts in the field and potential customers.

“Right now, we have customers as far away as Des Moines and New Hampton, Iowa, and we have contacts in Chicago and Milwaukee as well. We are leveraging all of our friends, past experiences, and work resources to get our name out there to be able to provide a partner that local manufacturers can trust when it comes to automation,” he added.

Mr. Allen said he’s pleased that SAS is making progress with the help of Maple Studios and Grace Technologies. “They have access to all of our toys. … We offer the space to build; the space to grow.” 

Another Grace leader also called SAS a great fit for the company. “They’re the perfect match for us. They fit what we are looking for,” Andy Zimmerman, chief technology officer at Grace, said of the first startup to join Maple Studios.   


Grace Technologies, 1515 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport,  is home to Maple Studios, which is a startup studio designed to help early-stage companies. PHOTOS BY DAVE THOMPSON


MAPLE STUDIOS: A new startup studio that provides collaborative space and fractional executive support to entrepreneurs. Maple Studios serves industrial technology companies and physical product builders from startup to growth stage by providing shared services to its members including access to experienced engineers, testing environments, marketing, and distribution expertise. 

HISTORY: Maple Studios launched in 2018 on the West Des Moines campus of factory automation distributor Ramco Innovations to provide space and administrative assistance to new startups. A second Maple Studios location opened in late 2023 in the Quad Cities at Grace Technologies in Davenport. 

GRACE TECHNOLOGIES: The Davenport company is a leading designer and manufacturer of innovative electrical safety products and predictive maintenance solutions. With a global distribution network and a sales presence in more than 60 countries, Grace Technologies has grown to four product lines including a suite of smart devices using sensors to predict maintenance needs and prevent unplanned downtime. Among its most popular products are permanent electrical safety devices (PESD) that provide workers a safer way to verify the presence or absence of voltage from outside an electrical cabinet. 

GRACE TODAY: Founded in 1991 by Phil Allen, today the company is led by his son, Drew Allen, the president and CEO. With about 65 employees, Grace Technologies has been in its current location at 1515 E. Kimberly Road for about nine years.


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