The term “Makerspace” didn’t really leave the startup inner circle until later this year, and – upon studying Google Trends – I realized that 2011 is when the term actually got it’s legs.
Nowadays, of course, Makerspaces (also called “Hackerspaces”) are popping up all over the USA, and indeed, the world – and Scott Converse thinks it’s a trend that will continue to expand rapidly, and glad to be part of one. Having been involved in a number of high-tech businesses in the past – in addition to working or tech giants like Apple and MCI, Paul’s the founder the Longmont, CO makerspace “Tinkermill.”Having recently put up a post on his self-titled blog with regards to starting your own makerspace, I decided to catch up with him myself and talk a bit about the dynamic of a makerspace, and some practical advice for those aiming to get one going, or get involved.
Off the bat, Scott laid out some of the distinctions and “things to know” about mackerspaces – and how they differ from the equally popular ‘co-working space.’ He says “Makerspaces are fairy similar, they all tend to be non-profit, they all tend to be a 501c3 or at least associate with one… in terms of monthlies [fees], it depends on where you’re at. For example, NYC Resistor has a monthly fee of $115 dollars… but you can lower that to $75 bucks a month if you teach a class.” Scott’s own monthly rates at Tinkermill are varied an include group rates and designated spaces, but start at around $45 a month, which Scott says is in the middle to low side of the scale.
“I think more co-working spaces should get a hackerspace together with their co-working space… if they were smart.” In Scott’s eyes, the two really support one another. A makerspace can he a non-profit pooling of local builders and creatives – in both “bits” (code) and “atoms” (physical stuff), Scott puts it. Then, a co-working space can facilitate a for-profit business with continued networking and a higher level of technical access in the form of a for-profit entity. In this regard, there’s room to rear and to incubate startup talent – and that’s something Scott believes will be a powerful economic driver. “This is something that I see as a future trend… If you wrap a hackerspace is a co-working space you can probably create something that’s self-sustained.”
In terms of practical advice for people aiming to start a hackerspace, Scott first pointed out the importance of reaching out to city planners and government officials to get together some economical development money. This is one of the many benefits of being a 501c3, says Scott. Communities can understand that an effort like a hackerspace is something that can better a community, and if you have enough momentum from interest people, you can usually get the city onboard early to help get it off the ground – lessening the burden from the individual founders or early members.
Second, it would behoove most makerspaces – in Scott’s opinion – to get their local schools involved. In Longmont, Scott mentioned that even at the primary school level, classes are being taught around the skill of writing code, and other “maker” skills. “…Schools know that not all kids want to go to college – you need to prepare all of them for college but the one’s who don’t… you need to figure out a way to integrate them into a community in a positive way,” Scott continues. He talks about how his local area is providing highs school kids with classes on coding Ruby on Rails, training in agile product development and more. Integrating those kind of existing efforts into a makerspace community can make for a cool way to share more tools and skills, and bring more attention and people to your project.
Third, Scott recommends reaching out actively to local businesses. He mentioned just how much he was able to get donated for free, and just how much amazing talent he found “coming out of the woodwork” when the hackerspace kicked off. “We have everything from HVAC experts to ex-NASA scientists.” Companies like SparkFun helped donate some initial equipment and get the ball rolling early on. By reaching out to a Chamber of Commerce, BNI chapter, or other business group, you can often pool resources – and more importantly: talented and enthusiastic members – to your makerspace as well.