[hackerspaces] Background stats for hackerspace business plan

Alan Fay emptyset at freesideatlanta.org
Wed Jan 1 20:55:14 CET 2014


I tried to take a stab at understanding the hackerspace market (and its
potential) in the largest cities, and some other markets in the southeast.
 I found some interesting data points, but on the whole, I think it was an
ineffective tool for understanding.  I started with a few questions:

1. Can we at least understand if we are under- or over-performing in our
market, by comparing the membership rate per 1M in comparable urban areas?
 Intuitively, one would expect for similar urban areas (similar number of
colleges, similar demographics, similar population) that the hackerspace
with more members is more effective at capturing the market, so they
warrant studying.

2. What effect does square footage have on membership?  Intuitively, larger
hackerspaces can support more members.

3. What effect does the membership rate have on membership?  Basic
economics intuition is that all things being equal, the lower price for the
good will bring more membership.  Intuitively, you can also imagine larger
urban areas support higher dues, as dues may also be a function of rent.

I looked at about 13 different hackerspaces (including Freeside), and
pulled most of my data from hackerspaces.org.  Where possible, I tried to
verify membership numbers against what hackerspaces self-reported on public
financials.  My methodology is pretty flawed (I also assume that all
members pay the highest rate, mostly just to simplify putting the chart
together); but again, I just wanted data in the general.  Here it is:

Feel free to email me any updated statistics, or email me statistics for
your space if you think this is an interesting data set.

Things I learned or believe as a result of this exercise:

1. Membership dues are largely set arbitrarily.  There's no comparable
"product" other there like a hackerspace, except for maybe co-working space
- in most cases, the latter is much more expensive.  So, I figure that most
hackerspaces run to meet rent as a function of membership numbers.  Perhaps
the rate was set when the hackerspace started with 20-30 members, to meet
rent/utilities and then some.  There's also little competition between
hackerspaces in the same urban region, so this does not cause a change in

2. There is a lot of variance in the membership rate per 1M population.
 This means that population alone is not a good indicator of membership
potential.  In practice, we see many hackerspaces that perform well in much
smaller population areas than some hackerspaces in large urban areas.  So,
something else is going on.

3. The most interesting data was the *density* of a hackerspace (member per
1000sqft).  This value had less variance, about 20-25 members per 1000sqft.
 At Freeside, this meant an upper bound of 120-150 members.  Of course, the
actual upper bound is probably less - I expect Freeside will start to feel
pretty crowded at about 100 members.

To get back to your questions:

I think it's more instructive to look at demographic data, rather than
specifically STEM/Engineering presence.  Hackers are generally middle age,
high income, and college educated.  This is just one piece of the puzzle.

Location is an odd thing.  Freeside's members are far-flung - we have
people that drive an hour or more to get to the space.  Of course, that's
Atlanta, so we might be weird like that with our sprawl, lack of public
transportation, and dispersed homes and business districts.  In some ways,
it's a miracle we have the support we do.

As far as a (non-profit) business plan goes, I see a few trends emerging:

1. Makerspaces with a K-12 emphasis;
2. On-campus, well-funded, college hackerspaces;
3. General Hackerspaces (community, shared and individual projects,
4. Niche Hackerspaces (Electronics-only, Metalshop-only, Radio-only, etc.)

There's also art collectives, but I think the artist market is
fundamentally separate from the hacker market, even though there's a little

The Makespace K-12 stuff will be absorbed in more affluent school
districts, and challenging to setup in less fortunate school districts.
 That is sad, for something with a lot of buzz about coming to save
education.  I personally think short-term it'll have the opposite intended
effect, widening the gap between education haves and have-nots.  It's
unknown and I feel unlikely we'll ever come together as local, state, and
national community to reform and overhaul the education system in the US.

Creating a hackerspace that appeals to college students seems like a big
risk; the colleges will always have better funding for such ventures.  Take
a look at Georgia Tech's Invention Studio, for example.  It's a beautiful
space, lots of cool tools and machines...there's just no way a hackerspace
with an annual budget of <$100K can compete with a university that can
throw several million into a space.

General hackerspaces are here to stay, but niche (interest-specific)
hackerspaces might draw off members from existing spaces.

I guess that's a non-answer; what I would say is have a clear picture for
your business plan to outline how you will build up community, retain it,
and grow it.  Take the demographics into account, and don't rely on K-12 or
college students for long-term growth or community building.  Ultimately,
students are transient, too.  Community trumps all these statistics; a
strong and dedicated community is needed to draw good leadership from, to
mange operations effectively, and to ensure that the non-profit continues
to exist.

On Wed, Jan 1, 2014 at 9:18 AM, Shirley Hicks <shirley at velochicdesign.com>wrote:

> Good morning and Happy New Year to all!
> I'm writing the Birmingham AL Red Mountain Makers non-profit business plan.
> There are a couple of things I'm having some difficulty finding at this
> point.
> Can anyone know of sources for:
> U.S. engineering and STEM stats by state and city?
> Does anyone know if these have been used to predict likely hacker or
> makerspace membership in a given city or metro area?
> Also, does anyone know of a maximum optimum travel radius for a
> hackerspace? I'm guessing that
> most people don't want to travel more that 20 minutes, max 1/2 hour to
> their space.
> Are there any other stats that you've found useful in your business plans?
> Thanks in advance,
> Shirley Hicks
> redmtnadmin at redmountainmakers.org
> shirley at velochicdesign.com
> _______________________________________________
> Discuss mailing list
> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss
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