5 Tips to Starting a Maker-Hacker Space In Your Community

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Tips on how to create a hub for your community’s programmers, engineers, designers, and other curious folks from a woman who did exactly that.

By Grace Belangia (Co-founder, HACKAugusta & Founding Member, theClubhou.se)

The Maker Movement continues to build around the country. Mother’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate the movement. Women are the mother’s of all makers after all! Loosely defined as a subculture of the DIY movement, there is a growing trend of spaces that support those interested in the technologies of making something through traditional engineering and a good dose of craft making.

No longer restricted to the aisles of Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, women are welcome in Maker Spaces. It also aligns with the Hacker Spaces and co-working movement, where people collaborate on businesses, startups and exchange of new ideas. I know because I helped start one.

It doesn’t take a lot of money or a big space. It just takes a community of like-minded people who want to support a movement that wants to create something.

There are many ways to start and there is no perfect formula. Here are five tips for how to start up a maker-hacker space.

1. Find Inexpensive Space (and Get Good Wifi)

If you live in a community that needs some downtown resurgence, contact owners of vacant storefronts for a great deal on renting the space. It doesn’t need to be fancy, something a step up from a two-car garage will be fine.

A good coat of paint, some whiteboards, a few basic tables and chairs is all you need to get started. Our conference table is a huge piece of plywood on a saw horse table…that doubles as a ping pong table. Rent is your biggest expense, but make sure you invest in good wifi. No power = no work.

2. Try the Nonprofit Route

Though a bit daunting, consider becoming a nonprofit. Once approved, you can apply for grants, donations of materials, reach out for volunteers and conduct events for community building and advocacy.

At HACKAugusta, we produce about 50 events a year, including monthly Hackathons, start-up networking socials, and STEM education maker classes. We also organize our city’s annual TEDx event, the local NASA Space Apps Challenge, and the local National Day of Civic Hacking. We wouldn’t be able to do that without the help of grants, donations and volunteers.

3. Pool the Talents of Others

Align your founders, investors and advisors with a diverse committee of people. As a non-techie, my skill set revolved about marketing, public relations and event planning. Other members include an architect of innovation spaces, a web designer, social media expert, handyman, engineer, technology entrepreneur, programmer and mathematician.

Just like starting a business from scratch, you need all those talents to grow and be sustainable.

4. Ask for Payment in Sweat Equity

A hacker space is not a get rich concept. There is seed money needed to buy the equipment, expenses for maintaining the space and marketing to the community. Our model is member based, and so far no one is being paid a salary.

As entrepreneurs in this movement, there is more sweat equity than anything else. Our members pay monthly and also must volunteer one hour a month as either an instructor, concierge during hackathons/open house, photographer at events, housekeeping or even grocery shopping.

5. Don’t Get Discouraged

For every setback (members quit, equipment breaks, denial of grant), something wonderful will happen. A member might decide their company wants to sponsor something. The newspaper does an interview on the movement. A parent reaches out to you and describes what a difference this space has made for their “techie kid” who has no friends at school, but found meaning and purpose at the space you created. I’m not making this up. These stories are all true and reinforce why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Photo courtesy of #HackAugusta

Would you consider starting a hacker-maker space in your community?


About the guest blogger: Grace Belangia is a mother of two makers, founding member of www.theClubhou.se, and lead organizer of www.TEDxAugusta.com. theClubhou.se is a Non-profit 501(c)3 innovation development company cultivating collaboration across the United States. It is also a co-working technology incubator with over 40 members and 23 companies. Grace consults around the country advocating for the hacker/maker movement, and will be speaking at MakerCon 2014.