How do I know how to start a Makerspace? Because I have done it of course! And it was hard! But I am writing this instructable to make it easier for some people. Why was it hard? For several reasons. Unless you have disposable cash you will need some money for equipment, a place to meet, and the things that follow like Internet, materials, electricity and more. Not to mention the time and money factor! So in the end, there are many ways to tackle these problems, but I will share the one that worked for me :)
Our Makerspace is in New Braunfels, TX. I run a computer repair business there, but was interested in the new technology from 3d printing to CNC manufacturing and more. But I realized that as my projects grew the best way to continue was to help the community get involved, while monetizing Making in some way to justify time and effort, cost, and getting new equipment. This benefited me personally as I got more time and money for my projects, and the community, especially kids, got their first projects going while learning new skillsets. I honestly think this is the best reason to start a Makerspace, because you are one in limited way, but needing to create a network and community to take things farther! So let's look at the first step.
Step 1: Getting Started - an Overview
There are so many questions with a Makerspace it can be best to get started WITHOUT a place, and with only the minimum equipment. Again, here is what I did. I found a local place, a small co-working space. But many other places could work. Partner with anyone you can to get a place WITHOUT rent. This is so you have money for the main thing you need, equipment! You will have to invest something initially. This is either out of your pocket, or through a donation. I arranged to use the space and charge tickets and pay them half. They helped promote it. I had only the equipment I had bought for my personal use at this point. But the event was a great success, and enough to convince me the community was receptive to the idea. So at this point, once you host one or multiple events with success, you can continue moving forward by looking for money, equipment, and a space.
Step 2: Equipment
At this point, and all through the process, you will have to be deciding WHO is going to be using the Makerspace. Kids? Adults? Both? This determines the equipment you will get. But in general here is what I've learned: Throughput is very important. If you are going to be charging for classes, it is hard for ten kids to use one 3D printer. So in general for equipment the rule is this: Any CNC model should first be made out of PAPER. Like on a low cost Cricut vinyl cutter. Then if the model works, make it bigger and better on a 3d printer. And if you have multiple 3d printers, get several modest size ones. 3d printing takes a long time. So print small to make sure models work. And then if you can afford it have one great 3d printer for big builds. So here is our equipment list we started with:
- Raspberry Pi's loaded with scratch and other sw like Kano OS
- Dremel 3d printer
- Cricut vinyl cutter
- X carve CNC
- Makeblock robotics kits
- Little Bits
- Traditional tools
- Silk screen
- Refurbished computers
- Misc kits you can find at Radioshack etc
Supplies. You will need various materials from paper to wood to filament.
Step 3: The Space!
This is the big one. I mean, the cost of equipment is pretty low when you consider you're basically opening a business. For $2-10,000 you can have plenty to start Makerspace. But rent is where real money is required. So you will have to be creative. In the end I found an unlikely partner in our Parks and recreation dept. Many times municipalities have unused spaces they can neither sell nor use. So in our case a small 1200 square foot building was leased to us for very little. Another advantage of Makerspaces when it comes to real estate is that a run down building can fit you image :) So a funky or unused building no one can use might work for you. Again, this is only one scenario, I just want to encourage you to realize it can be done, be creative, and don't give up.
Step 4: How to Make Money at a Makerspace
This might seem capitalistic to some, but the truth is if you want a great Makerspace you need to generate income and ideally make a profit. First, you need to pay yourself and possible employees for their time. Do not underestimate the work involved and the need for a little help! You need new and better equipment, and you need to pay your bills. So again, I will just tell you what I did. I ran the Makerspace classes in the evening, charging for six week sessions at a time, mostly for kids 8-13. Then when summer rolled around we did summer half day camps. Around that time also through networking got a donation from a local business. Now we are currently working on our non-profit status to apply for a grant. We are also offering an open source model and plans as we go along via our non-profit. Contact us here if you need help starting a Makerspace https://thegrid.ai/technologym/ and in the spring we will be giving a talk at SXSW on how to start a community Makerspace.