In this session we tried to figure out why it is so difficult to make hackerspaces that are financially viable. We identified several issues:
- The benefit from sharing is, by definition, collective, and hard to appropriate for any individual. This makes it harder for struggling makers to summon the resources to invest in shared assets.
- Spaces for making are, at least in some countries, more expensive than spaces for non-fabbing activities. Health and safety regulations impose a number of constraints. Italian makers report that safety insurance regulation designed for corporates make makerspaces "illegal by default": you are not allowed to touch a drill unless you are an employee. British makers seem to have it easier, as some authorities take a "don't ask, don't tell approach".
As a result, there seem to be three ways to get financially viable spaces:
- Piggyback on some existing institution that has some financial slack. This is the MIT model: in Europe, FabLab Torino leans on Arduino to continue in existence.
- Channel government and philantropic funding (more government in the case of Europe). Fablabs in Spain and the Netherlands were reported as being (sometimes indirectly, through semi-public foundations) by the state.
- Subscription fee + courses revenue for self-standing spaces. Success stories of this kind are rare. Three cases were mentioned: Artisan's Asylum in the Boston Area (the world's largest hackerspace); Metalab in Vienna; and SoMakeIt in Southampton. The first one exploits economies of scale, but needs the demographics provided by a very large, affluent city. The latter were able to bootstrap themselves by "packetizing" the service: rent a garage two days a week initially, then scale up as paying members move in.
An interesting risk-reducing way to bootstrap is to allow membership fee payment in kind. To participate, you need to bring a machine or tool and leave it in the space.
If you have notes about the session please add!
Costantino’s slides below.