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Community Makerspaces: The Cast of Players

Every successful collaboration takes a balanced team to succeed and community makerspaces are no different.  Like a well oiled race car pit team, miss one of the personas on your team, and the wheels might fall off.  Below is a first pass at how to describe these roles that members play.  This analysis is not to say that missing a piece means failure, but it is meant to better understand the roles that each member may play in a community.  After visiting non-profit, for profit, and corporate spaces we believe that this model is a good starting point for a discussion to empower each archetype and elevate the community as a whole.

The Cast: 

The Dreamer/Visionary –  Every space has a least one.  This is the person who sees a big vision. It might be the vision for a really big  project, the makerspace itself, the community at large or how to change the world.  The Dreamers inspire us to be our better selves, to reach for something more, to crawl out of the muck and find stars.

The Questioners – Every space needs at least one ( maybe two) for every dreamer. These are the people who can turn a dream into a plan.  They are also the people who ground some of the dreams- asking WHY? HOW? and WHO?  are critical for success and prioritization. If a makerspace tries to tackle too many things at once, too soon- failure is sure to follow.   Without a dreamer around, questioners will turn to everyone else in the space and question their actions, which can cause tension and friction.

The Builders –  These are your “get er done” team.  They love to take a plan and execute.  They love to tinker and create.  They are the ones you find at all hours in the space, tools busy.  Without a team of builders, spaces and projects never get off the paper. Without a plan, Builders still tinker– and some crazy, amazing things may emerge.   Without a dreamer around,  Barbie and Ken dolls may end up headless….

The Negotiators –  These are the deal makers.  It might be cutting a deal with an equipment vendor, negotiating with a land lord, or brokering peace between squabbling members.  They make it possible for the really big dreams to happen, seeming to make resources appear out of thin air..  although we have noticed that first born children sometimes go missing ;).

The Bards – Also known as the Sales team, these folks sing the praises of the space, the vision and cool projects.  They work with media, talk to complete strangers by preference and breathe social media.  These are the folks who spread the word, helping a makerspace to grow and funding to appear.  Just as importantly, they are also the story tellers, the ones who collect and hold the history and traditions of a space and help to build its culture and community.

The Stewards – Last, but in no ways least are the caretakers of the space.  Every space must have at least one, and if you can grow a few, it helps to keep them from burning out.  These are the folks who care and nurture the space itself.  You know them, they know where everything is and they pick up after the last crazy round of project making.  They make sure consumables are stocked, they take out the trash and make sure the website is correctly updated.  They are the quietly beating heart of the space itself, keeping everything running.

Here are 3 ways to use this list :

Three Boys Dressed as Nerds with Mind Reading Helmets

    1. 1. Have a little fun- can you name who at your makerspace fits each of these personas?How have you thanked these people lately?
    1. Burnout is always a risk in a volunteer organization. A little thanks goes a long way.
    1. Remember, these are personas, not people so sometimes people wear more than one hat.


woman in glasses looking up with light idea bulb


2. Plan for Success.  Are you planning to start a makerspace?   Is your makerspace struggling to scale or even to keep the doors open?  Make sure your team is balanced and all of the personas are covered.




3.  Define yourself.  What role(s) do you play in your makerspace?  Are you over- extended? Are you playing the role you enjoy the most?  Without the ability to carry out your persona with passion and joy, you will burn out and neither you nor your space will be better for it.


This may not be a definitive list of Community Makerspace Personas- did we miss any? Comment and let us know if this resonates with you or if there are roles we missed.

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Meet the Makers: Maker13

Located in Jeffersonville, IN in the heart of an area newly designated as an arts district and in the middle of rejuvenation we found Maker13.  Maker13 is a for-profit makerspace where members join to make products for their own use, for their business use or to sell as a business.  The embroidery machine is a big hit, getting solid usage and their laser cutters are almost always busy.  Users range from a local real estate agent who makes special closing gifts at the space to folks whose goods are for sale on Etsy and other websites.

Tool/equipment usage is all taught through project based classes and completing a class gives members the ability to use the equipment for their own personal projects.

The space is also very active in the community ( see the photo of a giant light bright board under construction for an upcoming community event) and have a solid but growing membership who sometimes just meet for maker chat over coffee and a snack.

We are happy to have this group in our Indiana Maker family and look forward to continuing to see great things happening here.

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Meet the Makers: First Build, a Rapid Prototyping and Micro-Manufacturing Center.

We got the chance to make our first visit to a full production Rapid Prototyping and Micro Manufacturing Center the other day, when we stopped by First Build in Lousiville, KY.

I had to chuckle when our guide started out the tour saying ” I have never been to a makerspace, people tell me I am spoiled”.

A collaboration between GE and University of Louisville, but open to the public- First Build provides local makers ( or distant ones traveling through) access to all the tools you know how to use.  Upon logging in, creating an account and signing the waver, you are a “member” and are granted access to their Maker area.  This includes basic power tools, 3D printers, soldering/electronics, board reflow ovens, graphic design/CAD capable computers and laser cutters. The more powerful tools are in the Craftsman area, which is accessible only when you have passed competence assessment on the tool you want to use.  There are 4 pieces of large equipment in the Craftsman area that no one other than staff are allowed to use ( impact of downtime is too large for their production needs).  You can, however put in orders for those pieces of equipment and pay reasonable costs for machine time.  It is important to note that First Build does not provide any training, so if you want to use some equipment here, you need to hit up youtube or other training sources before making use of the facility.

The GE staff who are located here have a goal to design at least 12 new product designs/product upgrades each year.  If you are an appliance geek, you can design along with them- they have collaborative online designing capabilities. If your designs are used, you will share in royalties as well.  Everything here is open and shared with contributors, a true breathe of fresh air in approach from a large corporation.  The Opal ( for the good ice) is an example of a GE product birthed here.

University of Louisville students frequently use the space for class projects, and GE staff mentor engineering students for their capstone project.  It is a win/win- with the students having access to production level equipment to learn from and GE sourcing great potential new employees from the students who pass through.

Since First Build is fully owned subsidiary of GE, they implement full 5S practices in the space and have daily 8:15 staff stand up meetings to discuss the priority of short batch production orders that have come through from GE and other special orders.  A typical short production order ranges from 100-1500 parts.  The electronics components they have for sale are all the standard GE parts, allowing them to go from prototyping to production easily.

We loved their signage, especially how they put links to manuals or instructional videos in the Maker room on or near all the equipment.

Like everyone else, we can tell them they are spoiled, but are glad this resource is reasonably close and available for others to share.


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Meet the Makers: Make Nashville

A special shout out and word of thanks to the good folks at Make Nashville who gave us a tour while we were in town for other business.

Things we loved/learned from while we were there.  They made great use of Amazon wishlists by having a wishlist for each area that listed consumables and frequently needed supplies. Then that list was posted in the area.  This allowed people to easily make donations of stuff, or to buy their own supplies and know they would be compatible.

We are officially requesting a copy of their new member orientation, as the gentleman who started our tour had been a member less than a month, but knew to make sure we signed in, had liability wavers and gave a great walk through.  How many of us could count on brand new members to “get it right”?

Although they have only been in this space for about a year and a half, it looked and felt like they had been there much longer.  Folks we talked with agreed that spaces go through changes in their lifecycle, and noted that they had just recently reworked their space and moved many areas around, accommodating growing equipment capacity and changing member interests.

Make on Nashville, we do need to define an interstate partnership project….

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Member Drivers

I want to go back to that comment that David Norris at Cyberia Makerspace made.  Even though it spun us down a different road, there was something important about it.

What he was referring to in the discussion about members was this:

member_driversThere tends to be some combination of things that members of a makerspace come looking for.

Some members  join and never make a thing.  Perhaps they have their own fully stocked workshop at home where they tinker, or maybe they just don’t have time or energy in their life to build right now ( a sad state, but we know it happens to the best of us at times).  Why would someone like this pay to join a makerspace?  They are either just looking for community or a combination of knowledge and community.  These kinds of members tend to ebb and flow. Maybe they join to bounce ideas off of like minded people while they complete a large build at home.  Maybe their way too busy life overwhelms even their ability to hang out with the cool kids. Whatever the reason, these members come, stay for a while and then sometimes drift away again…

Some of the people at a makerspace only sign up for classes and never become members ( unless you have a policy preventing this).  There is nothing wrong with this. These are the knowledge seekers.  Depending on how many classes you offer, and how much time and money they have, some of these folks may spend more time at the space than a regular member ;-0

Then there are the tool training/test em out folks.  They come for a combination of classes and tools, but the classes they are looking for are not content or process– they are tied to learning how to use tools. They might be learning and testing before they buy at home.  They might be learning and prepping themselves for a new job opportunity. There are more than a handful of reasons these folks show up at a makerspace, but once the learning and testing is done they tend to disappear, unless you can actively grab their interest. Sometimes these folks come for a combination of community and tools– they know enough to not have to take classes, but want to tap into the collective knowledge of the space in order to make decisions about a model or brand.  This is a bit of an in person google search.  Sometimes these folks only pop up at open hours , but never become members.  If you are a non profit with a public mission, these types of users should be in your business plan.

A related class of makerspace denizens are the job shoppers.  These are the  folks who join, use a set of tools for a specific project and then disappear again.  Unless they have a series of projects, they rarely convert to a more permanent user.   Since this is part of the mission of a makerspace, this type of user should not be a surprise.  The trick is to tie into a constant stream of them, so as one finishes a project, a different one is getting ready to start.

Why is this an important topic?  Because at the end of the day, every makerspace has to generate a certain income stream. If you are not monetizing these opportunities, you will be missing a certain segment of potential income.   There is a caution to this and a thing to take to heart–


At the very center of this venn diagram are the people who come for it all, the ones who are passionate about the knowledge and the tools and the community.  These are people who become your core group of members. These are the ones who empty the trash without being asked. These are the members who don’t just have skin in the game, they donate blood to the cause.

If you price all of these drivers too high without giving some break to the combination, you will make it hard for these critical core to grow and sustain.  Work instead on growing your other member and customer types into this center core by talking and listening to the things that bring them in, and challenge the space to meet their needs as well.