Now all the major pieces of your Hackerspace are in place. The paint has (mostly) dried, your toilets flush properly, and you’re pretty sure your new programmable LED strips are installed properly. Now what do you do?
Well… How about a celebration?
A launch party – large and exciting, or private and warm – is a great way to mark the occasion with your community, and set an excellent tone. For Pumping Station: One, the founding members organized a “Geek Prom” party where everyone could let their hair down after a year of hard work.
But that’s just one example: You can do any number of different events that will please your co-hackers, and any guests that join your celebration.
Examples for a Hackerspace launch event:
BBQ – hackers gotta eat
Plus many more….
Each of these events can be a fundraiser for your space if you’d like. At the same time, some Hackerspaces might choose not to have a launch event for various reasons. Like everything with your Hackerspace, it’s an individual thing and the choice is up to you.
Hackerspaces: Made by, and for, all of you
A Hackerspace is created only by the effort and resources that you and your co-hackers put into it. Set out to make your space amazing for you and your community – and it will be. When I set out to build Hackerspaces, I did nothing but dedicate my time to making sure that each space I worked with had the best chance to succeed and grow (while keeping my day job, of course – at the time). I hope you can pour the same optimism into your Hackerspaces’ potential as I did.
Looking onward with this series – there’s a lot more that I’ll be covering in future posts for this How To Start A Hackerspace series on the Adafruit blog. The series is not just about starting Hackerspaces, but will be growing to include details on starting out and making your space a success. Here are a few examples below of upcoming posts:
Funding and income
Bank stuff, payment processing
Formation paperwork and insurance
How to setup your Electronics/Textiles/Metal/Wood/Hacker Lounge/Etc areas
These posts are Creative Commons. They are made for sharing. Pass them far and wide, and add to them if you wish.
Hackerspaces are made by everyone, and I’ve done my Hackerspace work with many amazing people – this taught me how important feedback and collaboration is for Hackerspaces and Hackerspace culture. Feel free to email me at email@example.com with suggestions, and I’ll do my best to include that information so we can all work toward making Hackerspaces as ubiquitous as public libraries.
Based on the requirements you and your co-hackers have come up with, you’ll now need to create a layout that is optimized for getting projects done in the most efficient, creative, and safe ways possible.
When building or moving a hackerspace from one location to another it’s very useful to have a floorplan because you can virtually move things around to find the best fit without having to lug heavy equipment around once everything is moved in.
In your layout planning stages make sure every area has the appropriate power requirements and power drops available. You can never have too much power, or too many outlets. Keep the noisy and messy zones away from the quiet and clean zones, and build partitions or seperate areas into different rooms whenever possible.
Tip: Map out where all the power drops are and segment appropriately. It’s not fun when someone decides to plug a welder or servers into a outlet and knocks the power out to the whole building. True story.
Remember that clutter is the enemy and keep things organized in their respective zones – except when they’re being hacked on, of course.
Example areas and suggestions:
Noisy and Messy Zones
Heavy equipment and power tools should be grouped together and contained away from clean areas like your hacker lounge, electronics area, textiles hacking area, kitchen and other clean or quiet places. It’s ideal to have a room that can separate out your messy and noisy tools. Be sure to have proper ventilation and all power requirements met. Have a safety program in place to train new members how to use these tools. Tools can quickly harm people who don’t have proper training or respect for the damage tools can swiftly inflict. A future post will list ways to mitigate this.
Biohacking/chemical lab and storage is an area designated for mad science projects that require extra precautions. This particular gear and safety equipment is delicate, and I recommend relying on a member who is a trained chemist or bio engineer as the best resource on how to set this up. Most Hackerspaces omit basic chemical safety. Get a Flammable Storage Cabinet to store a lot of your chemicals so you don’t end up with a situation that closes your Hackerspace – or worse. Make sure every chemical is clearly labeled (that includes spraypaint) and keep handy your binder of MSDS forms (Material Safety Data Sheets) for each cabinet. Your MSDS will describe proper handling and emergency procedures in case of contamination or accidents.
Server room is the area you should keep noisy servers and other dedicated infrastructure systems that need to run 24/7 with dedicated backup power and cooling.
A kitchen, if you have one, is a great place to prepare late night snacks, teach classes in cooking, or prep for large events.
Clean and Quiet Zones
General hack areasand desks are the place for people to write code, work on projects, discuss problems and solutions, or have general meetups of all types. Fill this with comfortable seating and tables with plenty of power and power strips. A stereo and projector should be readily accessible.
Member project storage areas are great to have so your co-hackers don’t have to take to take their projects back and forth to wherever they are staying. Also so hacking projects and tools don’t get left in common areas.
Electronics bench is the dedicated area for circuit hacking. You’ll want plenty of space for soldering stations, chip programmers, electronic test equipment, wire spools, parts, miscellaneous items, plus a dedicated laptop workstation.
Textiles is an area where you might keep sewing machines, scissors, cutting tables and boards, yarn, thread, rolls of various fabrics (like Kevlar!), flexible fabric based electronic projects, etc etc.
A classroom area can be dedicated to teaching, workshops and training with a projector, whiteboard, desks, stools or chairs, and tables. I can’t impress strongly enough how important it is to have a dedicated learning area. When set up correctly, this space allows everyone to focus on the information at hand. It’s best if your learning area can be set up in a stand-alone room.
Materials/hackables storage will require shelving for random parts, raw materials like wood, metal, cement, shingles, and sometimes extra mannequins. (At one point, PS: One almost had too many mannequins. It was an amusing problem.) Make sure your storage spots are all easily accessible and well-documented so every item has a place and can be retrieved or replaced quickly and safely.
Restrooms – this is pretty self-explanatory. if your location doesn’t already have one consult a local plumber about installation, compliance, and layout. You’ll need to get a construction permit for this.
A welcoming area is a spot near your front entrance that people can see (and understand) an overview of your awesome Hackerspace. Make it inviting: have a few posters or flyers up describing what you are about, and keep some finished projects nearby that people can view or play with. Keep a donation jar at the ready, and make that as warm and welcoming as possible.
Now that you have worked out your floor plan and moved in equipment you are almost done…. Or are you?
In many instances you’ll find that your resources can come from your co-hackers – someone might have furniture or tools (or they might know someone), or someone in your Hackerspace circle knows how to – or is motivated to – do something that needs to be done. Pull resources from your co-hackers, and when in doubt, ask around. However, don’t expect that you can get everything for free or that the tools and equipment you get as donations will work, or be safety compliant.
Money is fuel for your fire. Here is a list of common costs to expect. These items below are the costs you will have to pay for monthly or semi-regularly, except for project consumables (materials) and maintenance of equipment.
Rent - Usually the most capital intensive line item that is paid monthly as a space is starting up. Use this example equation to calculate your annual rent costs and plan a budget:
$1 per Sq Ft * 2000 SqFt per month * 12 months = $24,000 / year
Utilities - These are the basic resources that make your space more habitable. You’ll need electricity, water, heat, waste removal, recyclables removal, and an Internet connection.
Insurance - If your space is being set up in the United States it is a common stipulation for commercial leases to require a general liability insurance policy in place with $1-2 million in coverage before keys are handed over for the property. Depending on location, and coverage requirements it may range from $500 – $2000 or higher per year. Directors & Officers liability insurance may also be useful.
Permits - Some municipalities and federal organizations may require permits, and they’re usually not free. This can vary from an Air Emission permit to run your laser cutter or to do new construction inside your space, or needing a permit to hang a sign outside. Check with your local municipal offices so you don’t get stung – or worse, shut down – until you become compliant.
Consumables - Materials utilized for projects: sometimes you can get these donated, but for specific items (such as 80/20 aluminum stock, lumber, raw plastic materials, wiring, solder, or Arduinos) you’ll have to pay for it.
Tools and equipment - If you want to write code, this means laptops or servers. If you want to weld you’ll need a welding rig and clamps; to cut acrylic, a laser cutter – and no matter what, plenty of extra safety gear. Make a list with all the items your co-hackers want and affix a price tag for new or used versions.
Staff - You might want someone (dependable) to handle your administrative work instead of it all falling on you, or instead of depending on volunteer hackers. An intern can deal with paperwork while you go hack on stuff, and they can be paid or unpaid – as long as you agree to compensate for their time in a concrete way, and agree on expectations about their time.
To pay for all of this, you have a lot of options. This list is not definitive, but it’s a great start:
Fundraising: bake sales, car washes, parties, raffles, silent auctions, etc.
Just remember to be flexible in your funding sources and not to rely on one method. You may have a sponsorship stop or your membership drops below the minimum required to keep the lights on – and this would spell trouble for your Hackerspace.
Bank Accounts & Payment Processing
If you take money in for your organization, it’s probably not the best idea to stick it under a mattress. You must set up a way to store your funds and turn on the ability to process non-cash payments like debit and credit, or Bitcoins. I’ll go into more detail on this, and the prospects of legal incorporation in a forthcoming post. Just remember to get your ducks in a row before you have a pile of cash frozen or your account cancelled.
A good rule of thumb that is followed by many Hackerspaces I’ve worked with is to keep a three-month “rainy day” buffer of funds handy “just in case.” Make an estimate, and don’t touch that money unless things get desperate. Of course, having a longer cash reserve is always better.
After you have settled on a model (which you can change later) for you and your co-hackers to support your Hackerspace it’s time to focus on the space itself.
When you made lists of what tools and physical resources your co-hackers will need and how that impacts your space, you were probably already figuring out where you could get these things, and who can make them happen. Now it’s time to actually assign who can – and will – do what, where you’ll find what you need, and who is going to be in charge of (and drop-dead responsible for) getting it done.
Before you go any further you need to make a solid decision about how things get decided by you and your Hackerspace co-founders from now on.
There are a couple of different ways you can organize your decision making structure in all of this. You can have a Primary (final decision maker), an openvote-style democratic structure (decisions are vote by majority, implemented by a manager), a Board of Directors (core members that make decisions, make policies), or you can take a look at other collective organizational structures online.
Formally decide who will be responsible for the space (lease, rental, owner); who will be responsible for your power, water, garbage and repairs; who will run membership and security (keys, alarms, opening and closing the space).
Get this stuff organized so you can get hacking: Make a check list of what needs to get done, like:
A Hackerspace can exist anywhere. There are private Hackerspaces, public Hackerspaces, Hackerspaces in schools and universities, Hackerspaces in businesses, and some hackers even open their home garages up as Hackerspaces.
Do you need a full food service kitchen – plus a computer hacking room? Or will you only need a functional bathroom and a microwave – plus a fully functional mini-machine shop room with concrete floors, 220 power and a fully wired coworking space that’s soundproofed for your software hackers? Do you need a loading dock for large-scale kinetic art hackers? Of course, the needs of you and your co-hackers may not be that varied (at first!) but you get the idea: what you want to do is going to determine your needs about picking out your space.
It’s important to determine where, geographically, is going to be ideal for you and your co-hackers. Is there a part of town that’s ideal for everyone? Is it on bus lines, is it easy to park at, is it going to be safe at night for your hackers of all genders? It’s true that the location of your space may be determined by funds and availability – though it’s equally true that your location might just be your own garage that you open up a few designated times a week to share with co-hackers, where you’ll simply update the space you have available to meet the varied needs of your co-hackers.
Examples of where your Hackerspace can be:
A mixed use commercial space
An art studio
A rental space you can (legally!) customize
An industrial warehouse
A storefront location downtown
Look for the kind of space you want on Craigslist, ask friends and family if they know of anything, ask other local hackers, and reach out to nearby Hackerspaces to see if they’ve got any leads to add to your recon. Now make an organizational list of potential spaces and make a schedule for visiting them.
Tip: Hack the process: shop around for competing prices. Until I founded PS: One and co-founded HacDC I didn’t know that things like rent – and pretty much all contracts – are negotiable.
After you’ve made a list of potential locations it’s time to move forward with your group and assign tasks.
Now that you have a concrete idea of who your hackers are, you also know what kind of space needs they’ll have. Next, narrow down what will be done in the space. Don’t forget: there’s plenty of room to grow your space to include many different kinds of hackers as your Hackerspace matures (covered in later sections of this “How To“).
Talk to the people you’re starting the space with and make the most detailed list in a shared spreadsheet of what different hackers need to do their hacking (and keep in mind that you’ll probably be adding to this list as you get into your space).
Here’s an example of physical needs you may have on your list:
Darkroom and darkroom supplies (have your photo hacker make a list)
Air conditioned room for servers
Area for physical hack projects
Sound proof room for audio/video recording/editing
If you’ve ever wanted your own place to work on projects, learn a new skill, build a new company, or to co-hack with others for camaraderie or info sharing, then it’s time to start a Hackerspace.
There are hundreds of Hackerspaces around the world and growing, they come in many different flavors, and they are used by all kinds of hackers. These posts provide the basics on how to set up your own space, no matter what kind of hacker you are, and is inclusive of the different kinds of hackers you hope to share your space with.
Map of Active Hackerspaces as of 11/12/12
This guide – which will be expanded and detailed in upcoming posts – will hopefully show you that the only limitations for your dream Hackerspace and the hacks you and your co-hackers can do are the limits of your imagination.
Hackerspaces are for all the hackers.
Hackers come in all ages, sizes, genders, and from all backgrounds and skill levels. Your first step is to identify who your space is going to be for: who is putting the space together, and what kind of hackers will be wanting to hack there?
It’s essential to narrow down who the space is for when you first start out, even if you plan on including a lot of other kinds of hackers in the future – make a solid core! Is the space primarily for computer hacking, hardware hacking, or do you have people that hack in a variety of materials? The answer to “who” will come from you – and also the people you’re starting the space with.
From the first time I visited a Hackerspace, I knew that I had to do everything I could to get Hackerspaces everywhere. I first experienced Hackerspace C-Base in Berlin, before there was an NYC Resistor, a Noisebridge, or a HacDC. I came back to the United States and found community with like minds – and then I co-founded Washington’s first Hackerspace HacDC and founded Chicago’s first Hackerspace, Pumping Station: One. Since then, I’ve been traveling full-time, fundraising for Hackerspaces with College of Lockpicking.
This How To Start A Hackerspace guide is for you, for everyone who has felt like I have and wanted to have a space to hack, to find community, to learn, to break things, to make things and to have a place to do it. Read How To Start A Hackerspace and find out everything you need to know to get started – including learning from the trials and tribulations of myself and my co-founders – and how to make a successful Hackerspace a reality.
Share this information widely, because we will have great hacks, hackers, and Hackerspaces when everyone can set up their own Hackerspaces.
Now, let’s get started.
In this “How To” I’ve broken it up into several parts listed below:
As you read How To Start A Hackerspace remember that Hackers are people who push the boundaries of their form and art, in whichever discipline that is. A Hackerspace is just a physical resource that is empty until you fill it up with tools, people, and projects. Check out what other hackers have done at global resource hackerspaces.org, and find shared info and wisdom at hackerspaces.org/wiki/Documentation.
“It takes a village to build a hackerspace” – ergo, You Can’t Do It Alone
When founding Pumping Station: One in Chicago and co-founding HacDC in Washington DC I didn’t do it alone. PS: One and HacDC took dozens of people with experience in many disciplines. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned, lulz were had and the overall learning experience was great. Just remember to let people help, be ready to admit when you are wrong sometimes, and always keep moving forward.
Setting up hackerspaces is a blast – but when the space is up and running is when the real fun begins. Now you have a place to hack on all the things, and more of them than ever before.
Lastly, this how-to isn’t a detailed dossier. It’s intended to provide an overview of all the tasks involved in setting up a dream Hackerspace. You will have more questions now (leave them in the comments!) but do know that more How To Start A Hackerspace posts are on the way here at the Adafruit Blog.
I had the good fortune to visit the East Bay Mini Maker Faire in Oakland CA yesterday, a one-day event impossibly packed fractal-like into every nook and cranny of Park Day School and the Studio One Art Center.
This was the mini-faire’s third year, but my first time visiting. I’d heard this tends to be more earthy and homespun than the giant official Maker Faire shows, and was hesitant that a techie like myself (with no kids in tow) might lose interest after an hour or two. No dice. So much to see, so many engaging makers to talk with…I was among the first in the gate and among the last being shooed out well past the official closing time!