A Makerspace is a Business

Last night I went to the Generator member meeting. I talked with some cool people about projects, but the main agenda was listening to the staff and board telling us how things were going and where they might go next. Things like “If nothing changes, we have enough money in the bank to keep running until May.” Or “Have you ever been in an industrial accident?”

Meetings like this one are an important reminder. Underneath the cool tech, the open source this and that, the collaborative culture of teaching and learning and making, there’s still a lot of hard work and an unavoidable need for cash flow. We applauded the people who had gotten the city to let Generator have a space for below-market rent (but still not what ordinary mortals would call cheap). Who supervised the construction — to code — and sweet-talked various institutions into supplying seed money, equipment, student interns. Who keep the users of all the cool tools from killing themselves or one another.

Some things can be informal, others can’t. So apparently the certification on tools will be more rigorous (what, I can’t just pick up the welder and start making sparks?!) and there will be a database of who is certified on what and little cards to swipe and maybe even chargebacks for the $300 a month or so that it costs to buy filters for the laser cutter. And reminders to keep the place clean, because there’s no money for a janitor. It’s almost as if the enterprise is moving out of startup mode. A sobering thought for a bunch of hackers.

I was a little taken aback by the focus on safety, but then it is the kind of thing that home hackers tend to forget. As the toys get more powerful  (especially in the wood and metal shop sections) and potentially more capable of producing strongly toxic fumes and dust, the risks get higher. Someone getting injured would be a Really Bad Thing for a makerspace, both financially and as publicity. Which is probably important for someone like me to remember, because usually I don’t consider a project fully underway until I’ve nicked or burned or sprained myself somehow.

And now back to trying to figure out how to 3D-print a vacuum assist system for a laser cutter. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that.

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