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How To Start Your Own Makerspace or FabLab
Image Courtesy of ProtoMX.comImage courtesy of ProtoMX.com
Starting a Makerspace / Hackerspace / FabLab is a great opportunity to capitalize on the booming maker movement while also enriching your local community with the resources to realize their own creative capabilities. If you are interested in creating your own maker-oriented business here are some things you should take into consideration.

Organizational Structure

The first thing you will need to decide is how you want to go about setting up the business. The options are for-profit and non-profit. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Non-profits offer tax-exempt status and eligibility for grants and other government funding, but they can also take a considerable amount of time and effort just to get off the ground. You will be dealing with government agencies which can take a long time to process paperwork.

Decisions will need to be agreed upon by a committee and all financial records will be public record. A for-profit organization has more freedom to make decisions on the fly and dictate its own structure, but without access to government grants and funding, working capital could be a major issue in the infancy stages. If you are planning to file as a for-profit organization you should be prepared to invest a lot of personal time and money. One way to offset costs is to start an online funding campaign like with Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Marketing

A strong commitment to marketing is critical for any fledgling business and a Makerspace is no exception. Most people will have little-to-no knowledge of what you are and what you do, so your marketing plan should be to bring awareness of what it is you are offering and why it is appealing. If you are setting up in a sparsely-populated area where online marketing isn’t as effective, then you will have to do more ground work like reaching out to local libraries, media outlets, and non-profits. Libraries may be a good place to showcase some of what you can do, and media outlets can help by doing articles or news stories to promote interest in your business.

Try to use existing outlets as conduits between you and your prospective members. Collecting data is also an important part of the marketing process. You need to understand your target market and what they would be interested in. You may be preconceived notions about what you’re going to offer, but be prepared to shift your philosophy to cater to the needs/wants of your community. Engage in public activities and host open houses frequently to draw people in. Plot activities for all ages; children can quickly become excited about expressing their creativity.

Tools

The tools you choose to use at your Makerspace must fit into the culture of what you’re trying to accomplish. The tools should allow your members to take ideas from inception to completion without bogging them down with hard-to-use interfaces or shoddy equipment that can’t handle a normal day of use. The quality of tools will depend on your budget. If you are just starting you may not be able to afford the high cost of industrial machines and therefore will need to find cost-effective solutions. This will allow you to provide every available tool to your members without bankrupting you before you even get started.

BuildYourCNC’s mission has always been to provide low-cost alternatives to high-priced industrial machines and we have a proven track record of working with all sorts of Maker endeavors to allow the Maker movement to grow both locally and across the globe. Your list of tools and machines should be prominently displayed on your website so your members and prospective members can learn about them independently.

Here is as example from a Makerspace website, listing their equipment and accompanying information.

3D Printers

SpiritBot 3D – a 1.75mm dual-extruder

PrinterCore X2000 – a 1.75mm single extruder with an unheated 150x150mm bed, ideal for small jobs in PLA.

Laser Cutter / Engraver

BuildYourCNC blackTooth Laser Cutter and Engraver – This is a 40watt CO2 with a 20 x 24 inch work area.

CNC Machine / Router

BuildYourCNC greenBull 6x12 CNC – A CNC router with a 2.2kW water-cooled Spindle with a cutting area of 6’ x 12’. Running Mach3 software for g-code interpretation.

Commitment to Knowledge

The willingness to learn is fundamental to any endeavor. You will need to be able to master your equipment, as well as design processes, software, and programming. You will then need to be able to impart this knowledge to your members. They will likely become as passionate (or more passionate) about learning everything they are doing as they are about the end result. The journey itself is more challenging and ultimately more rewarding than the destination.

Safety First

The tools you provide must be operated with caution and a strict adherence to safety guidelines. You certainly don’t want anyone to injure themselves. A good rule of thumb is to provide a machine training course before letting a member operate a machine unsupervised. Offer a comprehensive orientation class with an exam that must be passed to certify all members and staff before allowing them to operate equipment.