Hackerspaces are Hard: Insurance

Do you dream of opening a hackerspace, makerspace, or co-working space? Maybe it’s in the works and you’re already scoping out locations, intoxicated by visions of all the projects that will emerge from it. Here’s a sobering thought: makerspaces are a great big pile of risk. If the doors of your ‘space are already open, perhaps you’ve come to realize that the initial insurance policy you signed doesn’t really fit the needs of your particular creative paradise. Even if it does, the protection you need will change as you acquire new toys.

So why should you even get insurance? For one thing, your landlord will probably require it. If you own the building, you should insure it to protect yourself and anyone who uses the space. Do it for the same reason you’d insure a car, your house, or your collection of vintage pinball machines: to mitigate risk. It takes a lot of hard work to open a makerspace, perform the day-to-day operations, and keep it growing and getting better. Whenever the unthinkable happens, insurance will protect your investment as well as the people who make it a great place to be.

In researching this article, I contacted several well-established makerspaces in the United States as well as most of the major insurance providers to get both sides of the story. My intent was not to make a how-to guide, but to simply explore the topic and provide a view of the process and the struggle.

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Makerspace North, from Empty Warehouse to Maker Magnet

Makerspace North is unique out of the 5 makerspaces in the Ottawa, Canada area in that it started life as an empty 10,000 square foot warehouse with adjoining office spaces and large open rooms, and has let the community fill it, resulting in it having become a major hub for makers to mix in all sorts of ways, some unexpected.

Many makerspaces are run by an organization that provides tools that groups or individuals use, along with qualification courses for select tools. Makerspace North, on the other hand, provides the space and lets the community provide the maker component. The result is a variety of large scale events from indoor drone flying and various types of maker faire style days, to craft shows, garage sales, and even concerts. Smaller meet-ups, most often open to anyone, are held by such groups as the Ottawa Robotics Club and the Ottawa Electronics Club as well as some more general ones. Courses offered by the community are also as varied.

This also means that the owners of Makerspace North don’t provide tools for people to use, but instead provide dedicated rental space. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tools — it means that Makerspace North encompasses a microcosm of various renters who fill out the task of things like tool rental. This is just one example of how the community has embraced the unique approach. Let’s take a closer look at that and a few other novelties of this system.

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How To Set Up And Run A Makerspace

A bunch of people who share a large workshop and meet on a regular basis to do projects and get some input. A place where kids can learn to build robots instead of becoming robots. A little community-driven factory, or just a lair for hackers. The world needs more of these spaces, and every hackerspace, makerspace or fab lab has its very own way of making it work. Nevertheless, when and if problems and challenges show up – they are always the same – almost stereotypically, so avoid some of the pitfalls and make use of the learnings from almost a decade of makerspacing to get it just right. Let’s take a look at just what it takes to get one of these spaces up and running well.

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Hacking Education – A Makerspace Experiment

This is an Education hack, and it’s pretty awesome. [Abhijit Sinha] received an Engineering degree and took up a run-of-the mill IT job in Bangalore, considered India’s IT hub. 7 months down the line on Dec 31st, he gave notice to the company and quit his “boring” job. He ended up in Banjarpalya, a village just 30 kms out of Bangalore. But it could well have been 30 years back in time. The people there had never come across computers, and there wasn’t much sign of other modern technology. So he set up Project DEFY – Design Education for You.

He bought a few refurbished laptops, took a room, and put kids and computers together. Except, these kids just knew a smattering of English. They went to the village school, run by the government and staffed by teachers whose training was basic, at best. He told the kids there are games in those boxes for them to play, but they’d have to figure it out on their own, without help from him. Pretty soon, all of them were playing games like they were pros. That’s when [Abhijit] stepped in and told them that they’d created a base line for having fun. Everything else they did from now on had to be more fun than what they had just done. If they were interested, he would show them how.

He had a gaggle of kids waiting to hear him with rapt attention. He showed them how to look online for information. He showed them how they could learn how to build fun projects by looking up websites like Instructables, and then use locally available materials and their own ingenuity to build and modify. Once a project was done, he showed them how to post details about what they had done and learnt so others around the world could learn from them. The kids took to all this like fish to water. They couldn’t wait to get through 5 hours of school each day, and then head over to their makerspace to spend hours tinkering. Check out their Instructable channel – and see if you can give them some guidance and advice.

A year onwards, on Dec 31st again, [Abhijit] gathered the kids, and several adults who had joined in during the year, telling them he had news. He had figured they were independent enough to run the space on their own now, without any help from him. He would still get them the 500 odd Dollars they needed each month to keep it operational. Other than that, they were on their own. He’s been monitoring their progress, and from the looks of it, the hack seems to have worked. More power to [Abhijit] and others like him around the world who are trying to bring the spirit of making to those who probably stand to benefit from it the most. Check out the videos below where they show off their work.

PS : Here’s the latest update from [Abhijit] : “Got back to the Banjarapalya Makerspace after quite a while, and this is what they show me – they built a little plane. Of course it crash lands, and needs a better programming, but I am super impressed that they are ready to fly.
Anyone who wants to help them technically? Financially? With parts and components ?”

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“Makerspace” Trademark Application Rejected

The German Patent and Trademark Office has denied the application from UnterhehmerTUM for a trademark on the word “Makerspace”.  It wasn’t likely to be a threat to the community anyway, but now it’s entirely off the table. So Kwartzlab Makerspace, Houston Makerspace, Rochester Makerspace, Anchorage Makerspace, … you can all breathe easy!

To be fair, there was never any danger, just a misunderstanding.  We reported earlier on the trademark application and within a day or so got an official reply in the comments from Phil (“Mr. Mobile”) Handy that they weren’t looking to enforce anything, but were just essentially trying to make sure that nobody else could pull the rug out from under them.  (Thanks [Gentleman Nerd] for pushing them on this.)

The makerspace in question is an open-access offshoot of a business incubator that’s associated with Munich’s Technical University, and it looks like they pumped a couple million Euros into the deal, so there were doubtless layers of bureaucracy that wanted to make sure that their asses were legally covered.

Anyway, the Trademark Office did the right thing, denying the trademark because it wasn’t “unique”, and the makerspace looks awesome.  All’s well that ends well.

via [Make Magazine] (Germany)

Nurses Create in a Medical Makerspace

Although there are many skilled and dedicated types of health care professionals, nurses are often the main point of contact between the medical establishment and a patient. You will probably spend more time with your nurse–especially in a hospital setting–than any other health care provider. Every patient’s needs are different, so it isn’t surprising that nurses sometimes improvise unique solutions to help their patients be more comfortable or recover faster.

That’s the idea guiding an innovative program called MakerNurse–an initiative backed by MIT and the Robert W. Johnson Foundation. The idea is to encourage nurses to be makers. One of the project’s cofounders, Anna Young, had found nurses in Central America making do with what they had on hand and naturally acting as makers. “We saw a nurse repair a stethoscope diaphragm with an overhead transparency,” she said. Young noted that often nurses didn’t realize the significance of their making–it was just how they got through the day.

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Trademarking Makerspace

UnternehmerTUMMakerSpaceGmbH, a tech accelerator in Munich, Germany, has just filed an application to trademark the word Makerspace. This has caused some contention in the German-speaking hackosphere, and if this trademark application is approved, the few spaces in Germany that identify as a makerspace may soon be changing the sign out front.

It must be noted this trademark application only covers the word ‘Makerspace’, and not “Hackerspace”. To most of the population, the word ‘hacker’ – in English and German – conjures up images of someone wearing a balaclava and using a laptop to steal bank accounts. To the uninitiated public, a hackerspace is distinct from a makerspace. In reality, they are remarkably similar: a hackerspace has a room filled with tools; a makerspace has a room filled with tools that allow people to control their language. Little difference, really, if you discount the [Frank Luntz]-level wordsmithing.

While this could go badly for any ~space in Germany with a ‘maker’ prefix, trademarking ‘makerspace’ isn’t really that much different from calling it a TechShop, and the trademark application is probably just a product of lawyers. In any event, it looks like  UnternehmerTUM MakerSpace GmbH has a pretty cool space; 1500m² (16000sq ft) of space, a water jet, and even some sewing equipment. We’d be happy to take a tour, so long as they don’t enforce the trademark.

Thanks [Moritz] for the tip.