How to get access to expertise and equipment for $100 a month

Engineering Innovation Drawn on White Wall. Illustration with Doodle Icons. Engineering Innovation – Line Style Illustration with Hand Drawn Elements 3D..

It was Emily Pilliton, an Educator and Designer, who challenged us with the quote, “let’s build the change we wish to see” and it has been makerspaces and hackerspaces answering her call. Hackerspaces sit in that nexus of innovation, start-ups and entrepreneurships. They are inhabited by people who are not waiting for tomorrow to come but are building it today. They are innovators on a mission to self-empowerment. And it is with such spaces that they are solving a challenge facing any entrepreneur: building the first prototype.

A critical part of innovation is creating your first product or service. Whether you are creating software, hardware or simply an idea to be sold to the world on a website, the development of the first prototype is an essential part of keeping risk under control—it is never a good idea to bet everything on an untested concept.

It certainly would not be very helpful if the creation of your first prototype led to bankruptcy. This is why, for many innovative ideas, it is critical to always start with some type of a Minimal Viable Product, i.e. the low-risk proof of concept.

For start-ups, this is logical. As it is common of most fledgling organizations to be strapped for cash, it pays to create a bare-bones model as cheaply as possible. For larger business launching hundreds of new product lines, this idea is also a good one and for the same reason. However, what if producing your first prototype requires several expensive machines? What if you cannot produce it without dishing out $100,000 on a computer controlled milling machine? The answer: visit your local hackerspace.

A hackerspace is typically a community-run workspace where people interested in learning and building things can meet. It is a place to share knowledge and experiences, and to “hack” things. Here, objects like robots and circuits are made to carry out tasks not originally intended for them.

Because the distinction is often lost, one regularly hears people referring to hackerspaces as “makerspaces.” Though, on the whole, this would seem to capture how these community workspaces see themselves, for some there is a difference between the two words. Hackerspaces are claimed to be typically about bending the original purpose of hardware and software to produce unintended outcomes. Makerspaces tend to be more about making things with off-the-shelf products.

Besides these two styles of community workspaces, many others have joined the fray. TechShops, FabLabs and others also provide access to tools and software, as well as training and education. Some of them are for-profit franchises and others are simply based around a strict set of rules that usually require users to donate money toward maintaining the space. Their goals, however, are similar—empowering people to build their dreams.

Hackerspaces were originally created for like-minded people to meet and exchange ideas. They eventually evolved into a common space where people could cheaply rent or use machines, electronics, and software that would normally be unavailable to average users. But it is not just about the tools. Through time they have developed a “can-do-it” attitude that has led to many extremely successful companies like Square and LIFX. The builders here are on a mission to realize their dreams and it is here too where you may realize yours.

This post is an excerpt from my book Innovation Tools, available as an ebook from Amazon 

Dr Evan Shellshear, CCO, Ebex Pty Ltd