The first of many classes at BioCurious, in this case making glowing cells with Green Fluorescent Protein!
5 bio-enthusiasts and I co-founded BioCurious, a biotech hackerspace in Sunnyvale, California.had nurtured an awesome meetup group of 500+ people into biotech over about 2 years, and we felt that no one had lab space but a lot of newbs and experts wanted to experiment.
The best Hackerspaces are created when an existing community needs a physical nexus. Here’s what I think are the 4 core steps of starting a successful hackerspace.
1. You Can’t “Launch” a Community – A community is the seed, the hackerspace comes after. The hackerspaces I most love had active, hard working communities before they ever opened, such as Noisebridge, Hacker Dojo, and BioCurious.
2. Find Space – signing a lease took us almost a year. We didn’t have a lot of money and wanted to get the right space at a good price. We incorporated, got people to help co-sign the lease, and did a lot of craigslist hunting. Our first lease was a 2 year lease, plus I think a large damage deposit and pre-paying several months.
3. Get Equipment – We hunted on bankruptcy auctions and eBay to get our keystone lab equipment. BioCurious needed thousands of dollars of laboratory equipment, reagents and chemicals just to open the doors, whereas many hackerspaces can scrape by with only tables, chairs, and wifi.
4. Get Rent – now that you’ve moved in, you need to find rent every month. Memberships and paid classes are a place to start.
I think these are 4 main steps for starting a hackerspace, though a lot of it depends on the mission of your hackerspace. In our case, BioCurious is a community biology lab for amateurs, inventors, entrepreneurs, and anyone who wants to experiment with friends.
And make sure to visit other hackerspaces in your area! We got tons of help from the awesome founders at Hackerdojo, Noisebridge, and our friends at MAKE magazine.
1. Grow a community before starting a hackerspace
Hackerdojo: ultra-popular Super Happy Dev House parties before a hackerspace was a twinkle in anyone’s eye
Genspace: a passionate and devoted group of DIYbio enthusiasts decided they needed a permanent space
BioCurious: a meetup group of 500+ people with ~monthly biotech lectures and occasional garage experiments, then decided we needed a permanent space
Noisebridge: friends and mailing list before they were a hackerspace
2. Start with a rent bill your community can afford
Several of the most successful hackerspaces have grown but they weren’t always huge.
This is most illustrated by 2 of my favorite hackerspaces, Noisebridge (CA) and Hackerdojo (CA). They both started with small-ish spaces. (With BioCurious we started with a non-small rent bill, but it worked out 🙂
Noisebridge: opened in October 2008 with 1,000 square feet (see:). As of September 2009, Noisebridge is 5,200 square feet in a new location
Opened in August 2009 with 4,400 square feet with 40 members pre-signed up ( . As of October 2011, HD) expanded 13,000 square feet, and are moving to a new location this month (January 2013)