I’m one of the founding members at Red Mountain Makers. This series of blog posts details our startup process over the past eighteen months.

We had early media coverage (WBHM and the local paper, the Birmingham News) but other than that, have stayed out of the spotlight while building out  infrastructure.  Establishing our permanent workshop has been delayed because of the requirement for structural repairs to the floor over the old coal cellar at the back of the space. The break our landlord gave us regarding rent also means that the space isn’t high on his priority list for repairs.  It’s a significant handicap – and one which we can’t control easily.

There is pent-up regional demand for kid’s and teen’s tech classes, but we are no where near ready to provide them. In the space we are renting, there is unencased lead paint on doors and trim, and we haven’t yet installed a ventilation system. We don’t consider the space suitable or safe for younger children at this time. We have started building email lists, are looking for grants for a mobile class kit, and we are looking for community partners with whom to schedule local classes.

“Stuff” has been a problem at the space – as in old computers and equipment that need to be repaired or parted out, but which, in the meantime, is taking up too much room. We recently purchased racking and are now holding regular parting out work parties to break down the non-working computer towers and other donated electronics into usable parts. It’s much easier to use the hardware hoard when you can actually find a specific part. 9-volt power supply, anyone?

We’re lagging in detailing our safety protocols – and in doing a formal equipment inventory. Both are big jobs, and not easy to do. We are detailing the individual pieces of equipment with their manuals in the wiki, and as demand rises, are beginning to schedule tool use classes for the shop equipment. So far, we’ve found it easiest to simply train on demand as individual members need to learn to use tools for specific projects. Most members have been very good about only using tools with which they are familiar.

Our long-term intent is to be the fun, helpful and curious part of regional tech education. With that in mind, we are establishing relationships with our local high school and middle school,  the City of Birmingham school system, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s art department and engineering school, and are establishing sponsored teacher memberships at the space. This is so that area teachers can come, learn and tap into member knowledge as to where to find appropriate inexpensive resources and tools.

Securing 501(c)3 status

Last November, we were _finally_ at a point where we felt ready to start the 501(c)3 application process. The IRS’s documentation requirements for a regular application are extensive – and I was two weeks into preparing them when one of members, John Rhymes, pointed out that the IRS had implemented a simplified process for smaller organizations during July 2014 – and that we qualified. With a great sigh of relief, I filled out the paperwork and popped it in the mail with a check. We were actually provisionally certified as a 501(c)3 last December, but our listing at the IRS website didn’t show up until late February. We requested our authorization letter mid-March and as of last Monday, have it in hand. We’re currently in the middle of updating our information on Guidestar, an independent nonprofit governance evaluation and ranking site.

Preparing for growth

For the next while, we’re focusing on group activities, running classes, and growing membership. We still have quite a bit of infrastructure work to do, but it’s getting easier as our supporting membership grows. We have assembled three movable circuits workstations with parts storage. Smoke detectors are going in this week. We have bio and photo labs due to be completed by May, and as soon as surplus equipment is parted out or racked, a room in which to set up the circuits lab. Next,  sturdier workbenches and storage within the existing temporary workshop will be built in preparation for being moved into the permanent workshop, and we will begin fundraising for CNC (computer numeric controlled) laser cutting and routing equipment, a set of classroom laptops, Arduinos and Raspberry Pis. We will be working with UAB to start a guest lecturer series on DIY computing topics.

We are aiming for 75% growth in membership this year, and the same increase in our operating budget. I personally want to start introductory and short topic-focused programming classes for non-traditional students; these won’t necessarily be held at the space, but they will be under the Red Mountain Makers banner.

Our goal is to attain a makerspace of 100+ makers and members within the next two years.