The idea of a MakerSpace centers around group ownership and support of tooling and technology that is out of reach of the average individual. One of the very first MakerSpaces, the Artisan’s Asylum, started between three friends in a dorm room at Olin College as a way to pool resources. (The Artisan’s Asylum is now a self-sustaining, 40,000 square foot fully equipped facility in Somerville, MA and has inspired the formation of several other startup and shared resource facilities.)
The core of the MakerSpace model is to enroll members, for a monthly fee, who in turn have access to workspace as well as tools and technology available, after short introductory certification classes (depending on the complexity of the equipment). A member can rent storage space, as well as more permanent studio space at what is generally slightly less than market rates for similar spaces. Classes in technique and specific tool use are available to both members and non-members.
MakerSpace facilities mirror the needs and interests of the community. Most MakerSpaces feature fully equipped wood and metal shops, electronics labs and rapid prototyping shops with technology like 3D printing and molding. Often the spaces will host printing facilities, textile studios, traditional crafts and sculpture studios – even bicycle shops. Imaging, in the form of digital photography, traditional photography, scanning and output are also common offerings.
Beyond simply individuals who need shop or studio space and facilities, MakerSpaces are also populated by small, startup businesses that need extended facilities but need to keep their development overhead low. Corporate memberships, often offered in bulk and at a discount, allow larger companies to foster a “sandbox” culture among their design staff, as well as provide software and equipment the company doesn’t have to purchase. For any company trying to develop a prototype, the MakerSpace model allows a profound cost advantage over more traditional solutions – one example was of a startup developing what would become a successful product, able to prototype the design for $2500. The original estimate for the same prototype through an outside vendor was $250,000.
Possibly the most successful for-profit models of the MakerSpace idea is TechShop. TechShop is well established in several locations across the country, and has a proven formula that is a viable reference for creating a MakerSpace model.