Last week I delivered a keynote at the Big Sky Global Tech Summit in Big Sky Montana. Teachers at a local school in Big Sky have purchased a decommissioned school bus from their board and are busy transforming that bus into a mobile makerspace.
Reflecting on the past 4+ years of MakerBus fun that Kim, Beth, and I have had, these are the top ten pieces of advice I had to share.
We clearly didn’t have a plan when we founded the MakerBus. We were three grad students who wanted to do something cool, with a bus, that helped our community. We learned as we went along and definitely made our fair share of mistakes.
If you’re going to start a makerspace (mobile or stationary), the more work you put into planning, the smoother experience you’ll have. Think about things like storage, organization, tracking tools and equipment, maintaining member lists, insurance, and how members will access your makerspace. While these practical realities aren’t the most fun parts of running a makerspace, it’s definitely worth taking these factors into consideration when you’re in the planning stages.
The MakerBus runs on community support. We have learned more from our community than we could ever express or repay. From community members like James who taught us how to think like an engineer, to Paul who opened our eyes to a world of making and fabricating, to Safia who helped us become more multicultural makers, to Tony who’s energy is a constant source of inspiration, to Alan who showed us how to approach making with youthful wonder – we are better makers and better people because of our community.
Community should be the cornerstone of any makerspace
One of the temptations when you first start a makerspace will be to ask your community for donations. We learned the hard way that it’s critical to be specific when asking for any donations. If asking for computers specify things like operating system, amount of RAM, processor, etc. Otherwise you might end up collecting things that you just have no use for. We once told 3M that we would happily accept any donation of supplies they could spare. We ended up with a lot of useful stuff like scissors, safety glasses, and dust masks, but we also ended up with hundreds of purse-shaped post-it note holders.
Be careful what you wish for.
The MakerBus has never had a large budget, so we’ve had to get creative when developing programs and activities. We’ve made strategic purchases over the years that have paid off in big ways. Near the beginning of the project we purchased 5,000 LEDs, 5,000 3V batteries, and 10,000 rare earth magnets. Having a stockpile of these materials have allowed us to create maker projects ranging from building LED throwies, to offering soldering workshops, to teaching kids how to make light paintings.
Necessity is the mother of invention. You can overcome a small budget with big creativity.
There’s no way round it, money makes the world go round. A successful makerspace will need to find a way to be financially viable. Volunteers are amazing, but volunteer burn-out is a big challenge for grass root organizations. If you can find a way to pay your makerspace staff you can ensure a more stable, healthy organization.
Makerspaces can make money in a number of ways like grant writing, paid membership, paid workshops, summer camps, and sponsorship. If you’re trying to get a makerspace off the ground, contact the MakerBus – our team would love to brainstorm ways to make your makerspace financially viable with you.
Come back next week of Part 2 of this blog, where we share five more essential tips for starting a makerspace.
Do you have experience starting a makerspace? Share you wisdom with us in the comments below – let’s learn from each other’s successes and failures. Also, follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube) for the latest maker movement news, tips, and tutorials – let us help you create fun-conventional learning opportunities!
-Ryan Hunt, MakerBus Co-Founder