Sunday, October 13, 2013

Starting a Hackerspace or Makerspace - some specifics

Lately, a bunch of people have been asking me about hackerspaces and makerspaces (same thing, different feel to the words, go with whatever you prefer).

I guess it's because I was a member of Denver's hackerspace (denhac) and on it's board of directors.  I also started the Longmont Hackerspace (TinkerMill) in the spring of 2013 and have learned a bit about the current state of hackerspaces, getting them started and running them.  This post is about starting the basics of how to start one with some specifics and some examples.  I may do more on running them in the future, but for now.. just get started.

A bit of background:

There was a time, 5-6 years ago, when it was hard to get people to understand what a hackerspace was.  That time is no more.  It's significantly easier to start a hackerspace today than it was even a year ago.

The two things that have changed are awareness of what a hackerspace/makerspace is, and tools for gathering like minded folks to help get it going, fund it and run it.

There's a kind of movement happening not just in the US, but globally.  You could call it Do It Yourself (DIY) or hacking, or making.  It's all the same.  People want to take control of their lives and their surroundings more.  They don't want an off the shelf from a large conglomerate retailer.  They want to make their own.  They also want to learn about how things work, and how things work together.  Mixing technology with art and with business and civic awareness.  Delving deep into education, both primary and adult.  A hackerspace is a sharing of tools and knowledge as well as a place of collaboration that every city in America (really, the world) should have available to it.  And every city should encourage and foster this for no other reason than new business formation and better educational levels for it's citizens.

How to start a hackerspace / makerspace:

It's substantially simpler than you might believe.  Don't overthink it, just do it.

1) Go to and create an account.  Set up your first meetup and call it [name of city/town] Hackerspace Meetup (or if you prefer Makerspace Meetup).  Meetup is a truly wonderful service and worth every cent they charge for it's use.

2) See how many people show up for the meetup.  It it's 4 or more, you have enough interest in your town to create a hackerspace/makerspace.

3) Have weekly planning meetings.  Leaders and truly interested folks will emerge.  This is your initial leadership team (and likely, the bulk of your first Board of Directors).  Once the leaders emerge, you're ready to start collecting money (membership dues) to pay for rent/utilities on a space.

4) Set up the rules.  You'll need by-laws (keep it simple) and you'll need paperwork that covers the various legal and liability issues of setting up a hackerspace.  Don't do this from scratch, it's already been done:  Copy other hackerspaces work.  When we created TinkerMill, we copied several different hackerspaces documents.  The basics you'll need are:

a) By-Laws.  These are the rules by which the group operates.
b) Memebership Agreement.  This includes everything needed to ensure members are covered and liability is addressed.

That's all the paperwork you need to run your operation, to start.

5) Figure out the money.  You'll need two kinds of money initially, startup money to pay for two things:  Ongoing costs (Rent & Utilities, to start) and Startup Costs (depost, liability insurance, 1st months rent, some chairs, maybe).  That's really all you need to start.  Most of the tools and other equipment in the first 6 month or so will come from your membership.  The way to raise this money, initially, is simple:  Founder donations and Membership Dues.

a) Founder donations.  Ask for a significant, but doable amount, to be a named Founder (say $300).  Payable whenever they can do it ($50 mo over 6 months, $25 mo over a year, whatever they can do).  Have them sign a pledge to do it.   This gives you capital to pay the upfront expenses of finding and occupying a hackerspace.

b) Member dues.  Pick a number that fits your location.  TinkerMill in Longmont, CO. has four levels:  Student/starving hacker ($25 mo); Regular Membership ($50 mo) Family Membership ($75 mo). and Organization (a group of people) membership ($100 mo).  Your mileage may vary.  NYC Resister, for instance, has a $115 mo Regular membership fee.  If your rents are high, your membership fees go up (and vice versa).

There's more you can do here, such as charge a 'desk fee' for a dedicated desk that members can use to startup a company, or as a place they can set up and longer term dedicated project space.  Don't worry too much about that at the beginning though.  It's a problem you'll be happy to have down the road.

6) Find a space.  Go for light industrial, low cost.  Try for cement floors and a space for a classroom/meeting room.  We found 2000 SF is a good starting size, although more is better and less can be doable, especially in higher cost markets (NYC Resister in NY started with 800 SF).

Once you've gotten enough people to throw in Founder donations and Membership dues to rent the space and get your startup costs in order, you now have a hackerspace / makerspace.

7) Fill it with chairs, tables technology, art and tools.  Your membership will donate pretty much everything you need.  Just ask them.  You'd be amazed what people have sitting around unused in their basements/garages/storage units.  You will find, within 3 months, you're turning away donations due to space limitations.  All the rest of it will come together from your members (websites, blogs, etc.).

Trust your membership.  They'll figure out quickly what it is the space should be used for and they'll make it happen.


Don Dagen said...

One of the things I love about the maker movement is how community minded everyone is. This is a great starting point for our fledgling makerspace in Amish country, Lancaster, PA!

Don Dagen said...

One of the things I love about the maker movement is how community minded everyone is. This is a great starting point for our fledgling makerspace in Amish country, Lancaster, PA!