Coexisting a business and Hackerspace?


#1

Bear with me here, this has a bit of backstory/rambling :wink:

I’ve been in Calgary, Canada for the past 2.5 years, my wife and I will be moving to the UK at the end of the year. We were hoping to gain residency in Canada, however that’s looking unlikely so rather than spend the not insignificant amount of money on the application we’re going to go to our fallback plan, move to the UK. I’m a British Citizen, my wife is eligible for an Ancestry Visa so we are all good on the working/starting business etc.

At the moment I’m working for a post-secondary institution as an electronics engineer in their applied research department, but I have a small woodworking business on the side. At the end of June I’ll be leaving and working full time at my business (niche market, lots of desperate clients, at the moment I work 8hrs at work, 8hrs at home on woodwork), so my plan is to build that business up to save up extra money for moving and give me a good stock level I can dump into Amazon’s warehouses for distribution as we transition over the pond.

In Calgary we’re extremely privileged to have http://www.protospace.ca - a hackerspace that is very much so tool/making oriented rather than software/electronics oriented (it does have a good electronics section, but the vast majority of the space is split between wood and metal shops). I was hoping to find something like this in the UK, but I know that even in Canada places such as Protospace are few and far between. I found some likely suspects in London, however looking at their fees I’d be ahead on costs after a year renting a commercial space and buying all my equipment new. At the moment I only really use Protospace for the Trotec laser and will be using it for the wood lathe, I don’t really have free time to hangout there these days :frowning:

So , starting to get to the point - I’m looking at setting up a full wood shop with good quality professional equipment, as I have at home here in a rented light industrial commercial warehouse. I’m a firm believer in sharing is caring, and that Do It Together is better than Do It Yourself - so my wife and I agree that we’d like to open our space up to the community as a makerspace.

So if we open our workshop to Makers, I was thinking we’d setup the company for the business to rent the space and own the tools I require, then setup a non profit for the makerspace. If and when the makerspace side of things is in a position to do so, it would be able to help cover some of the rent/utilities, yet stand on its own for donations/membership and covering costs associated with the community side of things.

We’d like to keep the expensive machinery as assets for the company which will help us if we ever need to finance purchases, as well as the tax depreciation for the tools on the businesses income. Likewise, if we need a bigger space for the makerspace in the future, we have options for splitting or moving everything at once.

To be clear, I have no aspirations to commercialise the makerspace side of things or profit from it (other than help cover the rent once there are enough people utilising the space and tools to have an impact). If we end up with zero members, other than showing how bad I am at advertising, it wouldn’t have an impact on us at all.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how this model would work, insurance implications, etc?

  • Mark

Looking for a new home
#2

First of all, I’d say that UK hackspaces/makerspaces are evolving past being purely code and electronics centric spaces - Manchester Hackspace (hacman.org.uk) for one has a thriving woodworking area, and we’re working on a decent metal working space.

The problem for many spaces in the UK is first of all many of them are small so have limited experience, members, and knowledge with tools. This is compounded by being in small spaces to start off with, with limited funds. That coupled with the fact that a 3D printer, laser cuter, and a half-decent electronics bench can be scrounged together between a small group of friends (either from spares, or from putting money in a tin) and is easy entrance point on a cost, availability, and versatility basis, and you have the reason many hackspaces start there.

So, as it were, many hackspaces are slowly growing past that, although some were just not focused on those areas or tools to begin with.

So, to move on to your potential model, I have a few concerns -

Firstly, as you’ll be doing this as your main workspace, I’d be concerned that you may inadvertently gain ill will through ‘monopolising’ equipment, potentially preventing other members accessing it for long periods of time, and the same in reverse to some extent. That ownership of equipment, and resentment of ownership or use of the equipment, can become serious issue. This will likely become more previlant as the hackspace grows from ‘a group of friends’ to more of a community - i.e. when not everyone knows each other, including why you’re always there using the equipment.

Secondly, as the equipment isn’t in shared ownership, who’s going to maintain it? Repair it? Pay for parts? Clean it down? In a hackspace, there’s usually a team of people, partially incentivised by the fact that the equipment is partially ‘theirs’ who look after it. Fostering that when, for a start, you’ll be the main user of the equipment, and secondly, you own the equipment, could be difficult.

Next is the issue that some hackspaces have had with ‘core’ members - burnout. Running a hackspace takes a lot of time and effort, especially to start with. And a significant part of that is the maintenance and running of the space its self, along with issues of Health and Safety. I’d be concerned that if that were to fall on two people constantly, and there was no way to stand back from the project, that a space run this way could be quite short-lived.

From a ‘running a company’ perspective, I’d also be concerned about equipment downtime due to abuse, and the cost of that in time, money, and good will to the community. Many of us have walked in to a hackspace to find a piece of equipment damaged, saw blades blunted, sanding bands worn smooth, and nobody having reported it to the quartermaster to buy a spare or the maintenance team to fix the equipment. When you require the equipment to work reliably to make a living, those trips to screwfix and orders for parts are going to mount up in lost time and productivity as well as financially.

How are you going to manage member training on equipment? Health and safety rules? Lone working policies (especially when users see you lone-working and want to know why they can’t). Frequently hackspace members see a hackspace as an extension of their home workshop (and some hackspaces encourage that) - this means that enforcing, and even making, health and safety rules can be an issue with some members. Training can take hours out of a day very quickly, with even a bandsaw tutorial potentially taking 20min (showing how to use, clean, maintain, and doing a few test cuts) in a 1 on 1 session.

Those are the major concerns that I can see after a brief look.

There is an org that is similar to a hackspace, and used to run under semi-private ownership, and that would be DOES Liverpool (https://doesliverpool.com/), but I don’t believe they had the assets separated or worked there full-time (although I could be wrong on that score).

Thanks,
Chris


#3

Thanks for your input Chris, I appreciate it. As I said, I’d like to figure out a way to share what I have but some of your concerns certainly are concerns of mine as well.

I’ve noticed when looking for places with hackerspaces/makerspaces that the hackerspaces are gradually growing more towards being a makerspace. I consider a hackerspace more software/electronics/small project oriented, perhaps with a laser cutter as their main making tool/equipment, vs a makerspace that is much more tool/equipment oriented in a wood/metal shop way, also has electronics/software people :slight_smile: As you said, a lot of places are smaller, and I get this, especially when they tend to be located more towards the centre of a city where rents are higher. The Vancouver hackerspace here in Canada is very similar to the majority of UK hackerspaces, they want to be central to the city and therefore don’t have the funds for a larger space. There was the opportunity a few years ago to move outside the city and get more space, but the membership preferred to be central - I have no problem with that, and that’s what the membership was looking for so good for them :slight_smile:

I was really hoping to find something like Protospace which I could instead donate a few thousand pounds of equipment to and work out of, but haven’t found anything quite like that. As I mentioned London has a pretty nicely setup space, but very expensive and we’re not too keen on city living. So it’s looking like I’m going to be spending 8-15 thousand on tools (as well as shipping my cnc router, as its the main tool I can’t sell here and re-buy without losing many thousands of dollars) and renting a place. I’d love to find a way to share this space with the community, but there are certainly concerns as you’ve pointed out.

Unfortunately I need pretty specific equipment for my work, the main tools being:

  • Laser engraver
  • 3-5hp table saw, cast iron base rather than the job site style, 12"/305mm blade (lots of rough lumber cut down)
  • Thickness planer, or thickness planer/jointer combo.
  • Very high precision (ie: servo driven), very rigid cnc router (ie: not shopbot) - but only about 600x600 work area :slight_smile:
  • 6x89" belt sander (edge sander) - i need the long platten
  • 14+" bandsaw
  • Accurate mitre saw :wink:
  • Decent sized compressor
  • Spray booth, either automotive or just a temporary structure made of plastic drop sheet, furnace filters and box fans… ie: 200-250sq ft of floor space taken up :frowning:
  • HVLP or LVLP spray equipment
  • 20"+ floor standing pillar drill.
  • Router table
  • All of that needs a pretty decent dust collector!

Just throwing ideas out as I go:
I think a shared google calendar for equipment could mitigate monopolisation of the equipment to a degree, with the understand that the expensive equipment can be booked out, combined with an understanding during signup/induction that it’s a commercial shop during business hours (ie: majority of members at their own jobs). That being said, as a community grows larger than this indeed would become more of an issue.

At Protospace with about 250 members, everyone knows who the long term members of the group are, their relationship to the space and the equipment they take care of/train. Ie: the laser cutter guy, the tormach guy, etc. The dangerous (machine to the user, and/or the user to the machine) equipment all requires training so people get the back story as they go. Some members have monopolised the space there during the day as they started a business, but that’s fine during a weekday - as part of the new member induction training it’s explained that if you’re heavily utilising certain equipment for-profit that is fine, however donations to the space of a % of the profit, or whatever you can is good practice to help cover the maintenance cost of the equipment.

Most of the products I’m building I make 20-100 of at a time, which usually involves using the tablesaw for 8-10hrs, then the planer, then the cnc router, router table, belt sander, spray booth… so basically 1-2days of monopolising each machine then not touching it for 2 weeks. At least that’s how I’ve been working so far this year. The spray booth is the thing that gets used for the longest period of time as urethane cures, i’ve been using my spray booth at home for the past 2 weeks straight - when i was using the automotive booth in the composites lab at work, it was a similar story. That would be the main piece of equipment that gets hogged, and it’s not really a tool that gets shared easily unless sprayed parts can be moved to a separate, dust free drying area.

I honestly don’t have a problem doing all the maintenance on “my” machines - I can be somewhat picky about the way things are done, so in order to keep the machines at peak operating accuracy I’d be doing the maintenance anyway. This goes back to the monopolising the machines for commercial use and therefore pitching in to maintain it. As to cleaning, every hackerspace/makerspace I’ve been to in Australia and Canada has had the requirement that you leave the machine and area around it cleaner than when you started… obviously there are members who don’t follow this, but they generally don’t tend to stick around too long in my experience for whatever reason.

One advantage of this being a business that opens its doors to the community rather than a hackerspace that is trying to get dues to pay the rent would be that I don’t need to be putting in quite as much effort to start with to community build. That being said, having just 1-2members and no effort put in to grow the community is slightly pointless haha.

My key concern with opening the space up would certainly be equipment abuse. I’ve had equipment on permanent loan to makerspaces before which have been trashed, either through negligence or just not knowing how to use it. If we’re looking at £15000 of equipment then that definitely is a scary thought. Protospace has had issues with this, even with equipment that requires training/computer login to use (trotec lenses popped, at over $500 each). Unfortunately they’ve had to resort to cameras to stop theft and damage. I know other spaces have lockouts on equipment that require a code or RFID to turn the equipment on, and that usage is tracked. Certainly as a community gets larger that concern grows exponentially - ie: there’s a table saw, it requires training before you can use it, but if its 3am and nobody is around… whats to stop you?? For consumables such as blades and belts, some members at Protospace will keep their own on their shelf and just swap them out as they go to use the equipment, so they are only consuming their own belts/blades. At protospace there are no community metal lathe tools and endmills - everyone must bring their own… but then if you just need to make one cut with a tablesaw and you have to buy a £50 blade for the saw to do that, its’ not going to be very attractive for you is it?

The health and safety rules, and insurance impact/requirements in the UK are something I’m really not up to speed on. I know the OHS rules are some of the most stringent in the world, but not what that would require of a makerspace (ie: working alone).

Again, thanks for your input - I’d love to see if we could figure out a way to have some way to open our shop up… it’s still quite a ways off though so there’s no rush to figure it out :slight_smile:


#4

When you’re back in the UK, feel free to pop over to Nottingham and have a look around Nottingham Hackspace - we are probably much more of a Makerspace by your definition, and have a think about 70-80% of the tools on your list, and a load of space to use them in (4000 sq ft of space currently, expanding into another 3500 sq ft which we are currently fitting out).

As for your proposal, I would have very similar concerns to @badspyro - tool maintenance and misuse is a major problem, and if they are your own tools, then misuse would soon become a massive irritant I think.

J


#5

I did have a look at the nottingham website, I actually looked at all the hackerspaces in the open dataset that listed “table saw” as a tool haha. I’ve just had another look and notice the pictures on the website are 5 years out of date, so that’s why I ruled you guys out!

We’re hoping to be able to make a trip over in November to do a little research before the actual move… going to depend on funds and number of orders waiting to be fulfilled though. My wife’s a teacher so where we settle is going to depend on the schools in the area having a decent environment (lots of schools have retention issues due to poor management policy/staff).

The maintenance doesn’t bother me, as I have to do significant maintenance on the machines each week i’m using them anyway - running 200-300kg of wood through the saws, planer, router takes a toll :wink: But abuse of tools is something I really despise!


#6

Yeah, we really need to do a full review of all the online content.

Another job for the todo list :slight_smile:


#7

Because of the nature of hack(er)spaces, you won’t find any up to date, accurate, and representative inventory information of UK hack(er)spaces online, typically. There are exceptions.

It took several nights for me to collect together the list of spaces that’s used on this website and to verify their status, cross referencing with a lot of other places and checking on the spaces themselves.

My point is that I came across a lot of out-dated information and the data set you’ve checked isn’t a good representation, because not every hack(er)space has a full inventory, and also not every 'space wanted to populate that data set.

A realistic approach is to check out what hack(er)space is near where you’re wanting to be and get in touch with them.

No two 'spaces are the same and they’re all operate slightly differently.


#8

I think that goes for hackerspaces anywhere in the world, not just the UK :wink:

The problem is we’re not really too fussed about where we end up, other than “not london” due to living costs. The main requirements for our location are a school for the wife to teach at, somewhere for me to setup shop, and have low crime… which describes most of the north and midlands!


#9

Well, this might help be indicative https://www.police.uk/search/?next=policing%3Aforce%3Aneighbourhood%3Acrime%3Aindex


#10

Thanks! Now we’re at the point of narrowing down areas that’s more helpful than it was before (when looking at the whole country). I kinda forgot about that tool since first finding it to not be helpful at the time.

We’ve been referring to this quite a bit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11041812/Mapped-the-best-places-to-live-in-England-and-Wales.html - I pulled all the tile data down and printed a big (1.5m wide) map of the UK with that overlay which allows us to mark places that might be good for the business and then areas near by that are within a good commute/tranist distance, and in the darker blue areas. The data is quite subjective, but you can click on each section and see the general stats for crime/health.

If you have any other links you might think are helpful, don’t feel bad about derailing the thread - as far as i’m concerned it’s all relevant to moving :slight_smile: