Updates: Grants, Grants and Coffee

A lot has been going on in the last few weeks.  First off, don’t miss our “Meet and Greet” at Land of a Thousand Hills on Saturday, Dec 30th – (11AM-1PM)  It’s just going to be kind of an informal coffee-social, so we can get together, swap some ideas around, meet some of our instructors, talk about what classes we want to see, and, oh yeah, have a cuppa coffee together.  That prompted the first legit EVENT on our calendar page, as well as the Facebook page and even an EventBrite event as well.  (I’m here to tell you the website stuff all seems to work!)

As a result of this little event, suddenly we’ve been getting some press, like in LynnHappens, which is awesome.  All of which is leading us to tidy up the website a little more, and to officially remove “Proposal” from the header.  Yes.  We’re going legit!

Grants, grants and more grants!  The Lynn Cultural Council had a grant deadline a while back that we found out about at the very last moment, and tossed our hat in the ring for some support of a Mini Maker Faire this Spring.  Alas, we missed a few of the requirements in the hurry to get in, and got bounced.  Still, we met the folks over at the LCC, learned a little more about the process, and had a chance to talk to them a little about what we are doing – its all good, and we’ll be back next year with all our ducks in a row.

In the meantime, yesterday was the deadline for the Massachusetts Urban Agenda Grant, aimed at the “Gateway Cities” – the cities flagged by the state as having some of the greatest potential for economic growth.  Read all about that here.  In particular, the grant is about collaboration within the community:

The grant is intended to help urban communities as they unlock economic opportunities through collective impact and shared accountability. Specifically, it will support projects that are based on collaborative work models to achieve economic progress, which are particularly promising according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank Boston and the Working Cities Challenge:

“Small cities in Massachusetts and across New England possess unique assets and face a unique set of challenges. …Notwithstanding these challenges, research on small cities conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has found that eight cities out of a peer group of 26 nationwide have been able to either maintain or recover much of their economic stability, as measured by income, reduced poverty rates, population, and economic vitality. Several factors drove the rebound of these “resurgent” cities: collaborative leadership, the role of anchor institutions, investment in infrastructure, and extension of benefits to the community as a whole. Of these, collaborative leadership – the ability to work together across sectors over a sustained period with a comprehensive vision – was most crucial.

The findings are strikingly similar to those of the Living Cities Integration Initiative, deployed in five larger cities with substantial inner-city populations. Both sets of findings elevate the importance of collaborative leadership in creating systems-level changes that will enable small cities to reach their full potential as places to live, work, and raise a family.” (From Working Cities Challenge website: https://www.bostonfed.org/workingcities/about/research.htm)

It seems like a perfect fit for our project.

With some serious efforts pulling together the coalition we have, and some hard work behind the scenes and the support of the guys over at LHAND (Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development), we got that in last night, just under the wire.  Everybody pitched in, including the Mayor’s office, MassDevelopment, The Haven Project and the Beyond Walls guys to lend a hand and give some insight.  It went in with 4 letters of support, one of which had 4 members of the Massachusetts state delegation.

So yeah.  Pretty exciting.  Stay tuned – they announce their decision in only a few weeks.

Let’s see you next Saturday!


Non-Profit 501(c)3 Questions: The Board of Directors

We’ve done a fair amount of work on the Boards of a few non-profits, and tried to set up a few ourselves…  yet still, we look for sage advice on how to best establish a Board of Directors for a fledgeling 501(c)3 corporation.  The best we’ve found is in a post on the Harvard Law Forum.  You can read  the article in it’s entirety, here.  Here are a few points worth noting:

“The board of a well-governed nonprofit organization, like the board of a well-governed profit-making company, will do all of the following:

  • Formulate key corporate policies and strategic goals, focusing both on near-term and longer-term challenges and opportunities.
  • Authorize major transactions or other actions.
  • Oversee matters critical to the health of the organization— not decisions or approvals about specific matters, which is management’s role—but instead those involving fundamental matters such as the viability of its business model, the integrity of its internal systems and controls, and the accuracy of its financial statements.
  • Evaluate and help manage risk.
  • Steward the resources of the organization for the longer run, not just by carefully reviewing annual budgets and evaluating operations but also by encouraging foresight through several budget cycles, considering investments in light of future evolution, and planning for future capital needs.
  • Mentor senior management, provide resources, advice and introductions to help facilitate operations.”

Here’s some additional important advice about exactly what kind of individual makes a good choice for the Board:

“Board independence and board attention are of paramount importance in good nonprofit governance.  The independence of the board is key because of the non-distribution constraint – nonprofits exist to serve the public interest, not to benefit owners or other private parties.  Business or family relationships between the organization or its executives and a board member or her firm are frowned upon and should be strictly scrutinized under a conflict of interest policy administered by independent directors.  Even absent outright business or family relationships, a common shortcoming of nonprofit boards is that they are too small, too insular, or too deferential to the founder or chief executive.

Another frequent error of nonprofit boards is inviting new members because of their marquee name within a certain field of endeavor (e.g., a famous dancer on the board of a dance organization) or their means and inclination to donate, without due consideration to the person’s ability and availability to fulfill fiduciary duties, providing the critical oversight function. The governing body of a nonprofit must be made up entirely of people in a position to govern it—setting the strategic direction of the organization and overseeing management’s execution of the mission. Wealthy or prominent persons— donors, artists, scientists, public officials, and others—with an interest in the organization’s program but lacking the time, availability, or expertise to provide meaningful oversight may serve the organization in a non-fiduciary capacity, such as an honorary or advisory board, donors’ circle, or professional council.”

Rosenthal sums up with an interesting comparison to a for-profit Board:

“By a number of measures, nonprofit and for-profit board governance are similar: the board’s oversight role, its decision-making power, its structural place within the organization, and its members’ legal duties. The similarities end, however, where shareholder interest in maximizing returns gives way to mission fulfillment, a multiplicity of stakeholders, more complex business models, and self-accountability rather than external accountability.”

Putting together a Board for a start-up non-profit may seem like almost an afterthought, or a necessary legal hurdle along the complicated road to putting together a successful MakerSpace – especially to the founders, awash in a sea of decisions and challenges, both financial and practical.  However, it’s pretty obvious that from a legal as well as a practical perspective, a well-chosen Board with seasoned mentors could be the difference between a successful startup and a flash in the pan.

Good advice, indeed.

In a little more lighthearted note, Joan Garry has some advice in her post, “How to Select First Rate Board Members“, including questions she’d like to ask in the interview:

  • “Are you rich?  I mean, like really rich. We need really rich people on our board.
  • Can you assure us that you won’t ask any really stupid questions at a board meeting?
  • Do you really like to hear yourself talk?
  • When someone says something you disagree with, do you either sigh or roll your eyes?
  • How many times in the last month have you been on a conference call, hit the MUTE button, and checked your email?
  • Will you commit to agreeing with absolutely everything I say? (Asked by the E.D.)
  • Do you tend to assume that someone is doing a terrible job until proven otherwise?
  • Does the idea of asking someone for money make your skin crawl?
  • Do you care if you are late for stuff?”

The Brickyard (What’s In a Name?)

When we started this we pulled a name out of the hat as a working title, that just seemed to fit at the time.  As the idea and the plan took shape, “The Brickyard Project” just stuck.   When you learn a little about the history of the neighborhood, it’s no wonder.

In the earliest days of Lynn, the “Brickyard” area was home to some of Lynn’s most vital industries – in particular, the shoe industry as early as the 1700s.  Lynn would become the center of shoe-making in the country and the world, and much of the industry was located in what was to become “The Brickyard”.  It was a relatively open space, with access to the docks and the eastern corridor rail lines, and it was a natural spot for Caleb and Reuben Alley, in 1832, to start a brickyard that was in operation for about 25 years.  “The Brickyard” name was coined, and it stuck.

Several other industries gravitated to the area; stone, coal, scrap and salvage metals, for much the same reasons and the neighborhoods began sprouting up with housing for workers.  The community was rich with an international ethnic mix that would characterize Lynn to this day.  The Brickyard neighborhood was, even before its nickname, the core of the industrial and economic engine that would build Lynn into a driving force of the New England economy.  GE would build in Lynn, dating back to their presence here as far back as the early 1800s, and other companies found their homes here as well.

As the economy softened in the ’50s, many plants were forced to scale back or close, and the Brickyard neighborhoods bore much of the brunt of layoffs and unemployment.  The culture and community of the neighborhood remained vibrant and energetic, and brought color and diversity to the city in every way.

As an example of “Urban Renewal” in the early ’60s, but with a 1950s vision rooted in building  housing for  WW2 veterans, the Brickyard neighborhood was the target of what would, in many opinions, become an ill-conceived, and only partially realized reconstruction of a neighborhood perceived to be in decline.  Much of the area was bulldozed, and several large scale buildings were built – including the Lynn Vocational Tech Institute.  Even as an incomplete, and by some opinions, misguided vision, the Brickyard was seen as an opportunity to spark new economic development in the city.

While our “Brickyard Collaborative” still doesn’t quite have a home, the Brickyard neighborhood and the downtown is the focus of our search. It’s a central location accessible to transportation, but it also has a legacy that speaks to creating economic force, a focus on innovation, providing opportunity to city as well as bringing talent, energy and interest in from surrounding communities, and looking towards a powerful and exciting future in the world economy.

We can’t help but think of the generations of hard-working, determined visionaries and entrepreneurs who found a home and built their businesses in the Brickyard, and imagine them smiling.

Keep building, keep making!  Play nice and clean up after yourselves.


For a complete narrative of the history of The Brickyard, see The Brickyard: The Life, Death and Legend of an Urban Neighborhood by Kathryn Grover.  (Also available from the Lynn Museum)

TechShop’s Models and Lessons

The Maker community was rocked last week with the news of TechShop’s closing.  It was a sad day for many – especially for those whose lives were profoundly changed by the innovative makerspace.

TechShop is a for-profit makerspace that had 10 facilities across the country.  We’ve often referred to TechShop as a proven model, and a reference point for building our own makerspace.  Does this closing change our ideas or our model?  Not really.

With any company like TechShop, there are lessons to be learned.  In CEO Dan Woods’ words: “In hindsight, we invested too many years and too many dollars trying to prop up the wrong business model.”  From his announcement:

“As we examine our success, we must also examine our failures. A for-profit network of wholly owned makerspaces is impossible to sustain without outside subsidy from cities, companies, and foundations, often in the form of memberships, training grants, and sponsored programs. This kind of funding is readily available to non-profits, and very rarely an option for for-profit enterprises.” 

They attempted a pivot: the goal of TechShop 2.0 was to help non-profits, corporations, and universities launch and operate their own makerspaces.  It was too little, and too late.

Interestingly, several of the comments Dan made in the statement belied what we feel are the keys to a more viable model.

“…the very first TechShop location in Menlo Park. It was a scrappy space filled with used equipment and wildly creative makers.” One of the biggest takeaways from our visit to the Artisan’s Asylum a few weeks ago is that it’s a “co-op” at it’s very core.  The face of the Artisan’s Asylum is the member volunteers who keep the place running.  It doesn’t belong to the staff or management, it’s truly a co-operative organization.  When asked how they manage the volunteer staff, the guide simply answered “it manages itself, for the most part”.  Volunteers get breaks on various fees and services, but at the core, they’re doing it because they believe in the community and want to help make it work.  Their core guiding principle?  “Don’t be an asshole”.

Can this sort of a community be built within a for-profit framework?  We don’t think so, and it seems that the TechShop trajectory proves that out.

Even the very first TechShop, for all it’s “scrappy” personality, was funded by several million dollars.  Our first tool-up expense projection is more like $250,000 with another $100,000 for build-out to get a basic working, well equipped shop, and that’s assuming all-new equipment without considering used or donated tools.  Those kinds of numbers are a lot easier to pay back.  When you consider TechShop had 10 locations, that multiplies out to a hole of a huge load of cash.

Going back to the statement quoted above, “A for-profit network of wholly owned makerspaces is impossible to sustain without outside subsidy from cities, companies, and foundations, often in the form of memberships, training grants, and sponsored programs.”  This is our main motivation for creating a makerspace as a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation.  Donations from individuals are tax-deductable.  Grants, loans and awards are available that aren’t to a for-profit corporation.  Corporations are more motivated to donate.  More importantly, working to build The Brickyard Collaborative isn’t about building profits.  It’s about building a vision.

There were a few nuggets of inspiration from Dan’s release as well.

“As a veteran myself, I’m proud to say that TechShop also provided membership and training to over three thousand returning veterans. This program enabled veterans to develop skills and experience — preparing them for jobs in advanced manufacturing and helping dozens of vets to launch their own companies.”

Retraining for veterans, as well as retired and laid-off workers from Lynn and the surrounding communities is a huge focus for us.  The fact that Woods makes reference to this accomplishment here is really encouraging, and suggests we’re not off-target.

Read the whole statement here, on Make:zine.

Does this closing give us more information on what works, what doesn’t and how to build a successful makerspace?  You bet.  Does it shake our resolve, or make us rethink the effort?  Not for a minute.  If anything, it gives us some assurance that we’re putting together a plan that can work: a non-profit co-operative with a core of solid community involvement, modest and realistic funding goals and an aggressive effort to pursue grant, sponsorship and donation funding.

…and you can be sure we’ll be following the story as more people weigh in on what happened at TechShop.

Keep building, keep making!  Play nice and clean up after yourselves!