I traveled to Reno last week for a workshop, and while I was there, I made it a point to visit the Bridgewire Makerspace during their open night. They were kind enough to allow me to take photos while I was there.
Brdigewire is a nonprofit like us, and they started in 2011, so they’re a similar age. Membership there is $50/mo, and they have about 5500 square feet and 50-60 members, and it’s all volunteer-ran. They’re located in an industrial park, with their front door on the back side of the building and a couple of signs to point you in the right direction. The approach was actually very reminiscent of visiting our old Bluebird location in Delano.
There were about 10 people there with me the night I visited, although I was the only visitor. We chatted for a while, then toured the space, and chatted more. Everybody was very kind and one member (IIRC, the treasurer), gave me a ride back to my hotel so I wouldn’t have to ride the bus back.
While I was there, a couple of people were coding, someone else was running wires to power an overhead door, and others were working on projects too. Most of the people who were there were either current or former leaders. Their leadership structure was a little foreign to me - they have a board of directors (lead by the chair) and officers (lead by the president), with some people in both groups. I wasn’t clear on where the duties/responsibilities fell for different things, but it seemed like a structure that worked well for them.
While we were touring, I noticed a small collection of rubber band guns. Apparently they had a competition where members designed and built their own, some judging occurred, and a winner was declared. It reminded me of the Robot Sumo competition we did back in the day. It was so much fun - we really need to do it again. You can read a little bit about it in this old blog post. Maybe we should do a Hebocon? We could do all kinds of competitions! Speaking of, what are we doing for Halloween this year?
Anyway, after the tour we just hung out, talked about current and past projects, and swapped a bunch of stories. We had so many similarities, it was uncanny. There are some differences, of course. For example, they have an hourly charge for some equipment, every member has some storage space, etc. They also have some sectioned-off floor and table space for people to park their projects for different lengths of time (for a fee). Generally though, being there felt very familiar/comfortable.
They seemed genuinely impressed with our growth story. They have many highly-dedicated volunteers just like we do, which is thanks in part to the culture we try to create when we started and continue today. Where I think we’ve been very fortunate is with all of our financial supporters (members included!). If not for the Wichita Community Foundation and Knight Foundation’s support and recognition of our community and it’s potential a few years ago, I’m certain that we’d look much more like Bridgewire than we currently do. I’m not saying that would be bad per se - they have an outstanding community of members and a decent makerspace - but it certainly would not be the same.
I really enjoyed visiting Bridgewire, and if you’re ever in the area, I recommend you stop in and say hi. If I lived in the area and had the means to pay dues, I would definitely join up.
I like to visit other makerspaces whenever I travel. Reno actually had a couple more that I wasn’t able to visit - one at the University of Nevada and one that’s really only active for Burning Man activities. I’m in Philadelphia right now, so I’ll be sharing some more visits as soon as I have time to write something up