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Nation of Makers Meeting at the White House, Aug 24, 2016 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Stephen Charlesworth and Jenett Tillotson were invited to attend this meeting of Makerspace organizers and board members from all over the US.

Somebody helpfully edited the White House feed into videos for each presenter

Note, to some degree this is a fusion of Jenett’s and Steve’s notes, so the format and structure might be inconsistent.

Key Points

  • Andrew Coy wants to form a Trade Organization by the End of the Calendar Year.
  • Look to the 4H Model as inspiration for a public/private partnership.
  • There appears to be a genuine commitment to moving forward with this.
  • After the Meeting, US Makerspace Organizers will continue collaboration efforts on Facebook, Slack, Github, and other channels
  • There are a lot of funding opportunities out there

The day before

  • NSA Cryptologic Museum (Rules!)
  • HacDC and Tap Meetup
  • Extensive conversation w/ Ethan, the VP of HacDC

Day of the Meeting

Morning presentations

Tom Kalil – Deputy Director of OSTP

Why Making?

  • End in itself
  • STEM, Manufacturing and Design – ‘Just In Time’ vs. ‘Just in Case’ (you learn things relevant now, not ‘in case you need Calculus later’ – SDC Note – math is an end in itself)
  • Innovation/Entrepreneurship in Manufacturing
  • Increase the number of problem solvers

Lowering barrier to entry

  • Program partners
  • Hackerspaces
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Increase Awareness and Involvement
  • Mentioned the ‘Mayor’s Maker Challenge’ – Jenett has already contacted Mayor Hamilton
  • ‘Keep in Touch’

Emily Pilloton (Project H/Girls’ Garage, Baltimore) Learn about her projects in the documentary "If you build it" (available on Netflix)

Project H

  • 2008-Today
  • Inspired by Sandra Cisneros’ ‘Home of my own’ (more detail)
  • Importance of ‘Dignified, well-organized Spaces’
  • ‘Fear Less, Build More’

Will Holman of Open Works 70 Micro Studios – 50 sq ft - $125/mo – look to ‘Y Family Membership’ as cost guideline. @open_works_bmore

Shawn Wallace AS220 Arts Providence

  • ‘Ballyhoo’ – get the word out.
  • Modern Devices grew out of that (the Reverbalizer) - generally they help productize projects


Everybody said who they were, what space they were representing, and ‘3 words’ – Andrew Coy got the idea from Foo Camp. Only about ½ the people kept it to 3 words, many were 4 or 5 because they couldn’t count.

Sample phrases:

  • ‘Fund Impactive Shit’ (one of the government folks – Julie Lenzer from OIE/EDA)
  • ‘We Void Warranties’
  • ‘Leverage this room’

Jenett said ‘barely controlled chaos’. I violated the spirit of the law but not the letter by talking a bit and then says ‘My 3 words are ‘Don’t be ablaze’. Jenett wanted me to say ‘community, consensus, anarchy’.

Ryan McDermott (aka ‘Hatchet’) from HeatSync

This was the morning presentation I found most beneficial. A long time concern I’ve had, and I’ve had other people approach me about is the lack of focus or making sometimes at meetups. Other people have suggested having some activity newcomers could jump into.

Ryan talked about having ‘consistent, reliable, and focused’ meetups, and we do well on the first 2. As a slide said ‘Open Hours: Often Helpful But Not The Solution’. He talked about a successful meetup they have: ‘Coffee and Code’ (I think a meetup group in Indy does this, too).

Some other points he made:

  • Hold people to task
  • No loafing
  • Be consistent
  • Give people something to do

(We also met Ryan at a bar that night and had an interesting discussion including a rant about 3D printers.)

Kari Love - NYC Resistor

  • Soft robotics, space stuff, etc.
  • Spoke of the importance of being invited to the space.

Matthew Stultz, Ocean State Maker Mill and HackPGH

  • ‘Burnout is more about not feeling accomplishment than working too much’
  • ‘Big scores inspire’ - go for the ‘Maker High’
  • ‘Apathy is contagious’

Julie Lenzer, Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Economic Development Administration) Talked about Economic Development grants, particularly around manufacturing.

  • Regional grants –
  • All makerspaces qualify

Sanjay Koyani, Senior advisor to the CTO, HHS

Talked about the Idea Lab (HHS), and the ‘Invent Health Initiative’.

Megan Brewster, Senior Policy Advisor, OSTP

  • Talked about Manufacturing Day (Oct 7)
  • Sept 16 is the deadline for responses – go for it (fast!).

Mark Walsh, Head of the Office of Investment and Innovation (‘or, as we call it ‘OII!’’) Side note: first impression is he’s a stern alpha-male boardroom type, and he does have a corporate background (including GE and AOL) but he was pretty funny. He talked about the US Small Business Admin. and that they have $6.5 Billion/Yr toward SBIR, STTR.

[SBA] - see the ‘Annual Accelerator Program’

Mentioned ‘Made in Space’ and their support of Lift Labs (makers of the spoon for Parkinson’s patients).

His 3 words were ‘Don’t stop trying’.

Told a story of FDR telling a guy who asked for funding: ‘Go out there and make me do it’, i.e., do some awesome shit and get back to me so I will want to be in on the awesomeness.

Mentioned ‘the other mill’: <$3K, has nm precision.

Rob Baker, Lead Technologist U.S. Agency for International Development

Showed his sticker-covered laptop as demonstration of geek cred (he was asked: ‘did your kids do that’?)

  • Tracking Ebola w/ Armband devices
  • Foo Camp
  • Instructables Artist in Residence Program
  • ‘Global Innovation Exchange’
  • Aaron Cunningham from Google

All I remember from Google’s presence at this thing was a mention of the Lulzbot 3D Giveaway and the woman with Aaron mentioning a project around putting together people's’ images and movies during the upcoming eclipse. I generally don’t get the sense Google is particularly interested in engaging with Maker Culture, although they’re happy a lot of us use Google Docs.

Megan Smith, US CTO

The star of the morning sessions. She talked about Suzuki’s observation that ‘if a child can learn something as complex as language, they should be able to learn just about anything’.

Discussed the upcoming movie ‘Hidden Figures’ about Katherine Johnson, an African American woman who was a mathematician working as part of the space race effort.

She talked about the challenge coins we’d get and suggested we design and make our own versions.

Finally she mentioned a key point of the day, looking at the 4H program as a way of structuring a relationship between makerspaces and government. 4H is a successful public/private partnership that’s been around since 1902. It seems kind of old-fashioned today, but originally it was started as a way to educate kids about new technologies in Agriculture, because often adults in the field were very wary of new things and didn’t incorporate them into their farming work. When the kids learned about new things, they would share their knowledge with the adults and that would get the adults on board!

Tim Doyle Called us ‘smart money’ (thanks Tim). Says we complement what’s going on in Washington and talked about ‘businessfwd’ - a way to speak to the government.


We had lunch in a very fancy room, the ‘Indian Treaty Room’. In my case ½ a Jimmy John’s #9, Jalepeno Chips I saved for later, and warm Sprite (not sure if I missed out on the ice or what).

= Afternoon Sessions

Jenett and I split up to double our coverage. Andrew Coy mentioned these were in part an experiment to see how we’d organize the opportunity to communicate with other spaces (we should elect ‘room captains’, observe rules of order, mind the time, and so on). There were mixed results here. A lot of great ideas were shared, but some of these meetings had ~50 or so attendees so it was hard to get a word in and there were cases where people jockeyed for alpha position. Anyhow, I attended these sessions:

NSF Programs 3 representatives of the NSF were there, Katie Shroyer, Robert Russel and a guy whose name I didn’t catch (sorry guy). My notes on this are fragmented but grants for ‘Cyber Learning’ and curriculum development were mentioned, as well as SBIR grants. I have a handout I’ll scan and share. The NSF offers grants for efforts that will lead to job creation. An interesting tidbit was that some of these are funded via the H1B, aka the ‘we couldn’t find an American to do this job’ program. The attendees asked questions about IP and is there a requirement for efforts to be Open Source. The NSF folks said, companies or organizations can keep their IP, it’s not a requirement that efforts be open source. Additionally applicants don’t have to be non-profits, but they do need to have ‘accounting structures that can handle Federal Funds’. We were encouraged to apply via [] instead of [] as a ‘fast lane’ approach. Additionally, Mr. Russel suggested sending a rough (1-2 page) sketch of your proposal before applying to get feedback. They mentioned possibly partnering with a professor but to watch out for overhead. Additionally, you don’t even have to be in the same state as the professor.

  • There are smaller grants and these have a lower bar as far as accounting goes.
  • Approx $100K grants via the Institute for Museum and Library Services was mentioned. Action: We should follow up with Steve Backs on that one.
  • Mention of ‘iSchools Movement’.

Q: what extent of your funding is Maker related? A: it’s hard to track, so we don’t really know

Other types of grants:

  • Workshops in the $5K range
  • Conference grants (200-300K) (I think I overstated the second number).

For these smaller grants, there’s a quicker turnaround.

Mention of the Astec(?) conference in September.


  • small business grants
  • [] – prize contest
  • can use SBIR to start a business
    • only for for-profit businesses
    • but you can create the business entity after you get the grant
  • IN – 5 SBIR’s in 2016
  • not uncommon to see 1 or 2 person businesses

How to win

  • know your customer
  • review past solicitations
  • check for pre-solicitation
  • FAST organization
  • []

Citizen Science

I was pretty jazzed about this one. I saw citizen science as a hook to draw people in and provide a bit of the ‘focus’ mentioned earlier.

Two government employees talked about Prizes and Challenges as a way to encourage and reward citizen science efforts (for example Hero X, which is along the lines of the X Prize).

This ended up being a cool session, although in retrospect it was people listing really cool stuff they’d done more than discussing how to initiate citizen science efforts or how to get the best results from them. Projects included:

  • Super-cheap EEG for people under-served by medical professionals (no doctors nearby)
  • ‘Open Insulin’
  • A person involved with the FarmBot project was there
  • ‘Chicken Pi’, a Raspberry Pi based open source Coop Management project (Action: tell Neal about this one)
  • A person from Familab talked about setting up a biolab to make that more broadly accessible.
  • A project to help with lead testing in water (EPA methodology was disparaged)
  • A wind sensor kit (they’ve been dealing with issues around temperature changes affecting reading)
  • The Open BCI brain control interface
  • A Google guy talked about ‘Science Journal’, an app aimed at children that used sensors built-in to smartphones to collect data. Due to CAPA constraints none of the data can be uploaded to the cloud. There will be an API that will make it possible for kids to collect data with other sensors.
  • A project (‘Megamovie’) was mentioned which will crowdsource images and film from the upcoming eclipse (Action: mention to the guy working on the eclipse related project).
  • Open ROV + Go Pro
  • Realtime analysis of water levels and other properties (relevant in light of recent LA flooding).
  • A Dr. Slatter(?) mentioned the OpenIdea platform. He also observed that ‘the amount of brain power in this room is really fun’.
  • Open Source Vegan Cheese
  • HIPAA compliant telemedicine.

A concern about the price-gouging by the company that makes epi-pens was raised.

Additionally, the story of Maui Makers getting a $50K DARPA grant and then basically imploding was brought up as a cautionary tale.

Somebody told the government people ‘you guys are the good guys and you’ve got all the money’. Another person expressed frustration with his local government (not sure why since we were at the White House). Another guy who also works for an eHealth startup said it would be helpful if the govt provided more guidelines into ways to navigate regulations. He also raised concerns about the patent system being a good idea, but it can stifle innovation.

One of the government employees (Chris) will follow up and send contact info to the group.

Education & Making

  • Funding opportunities
  • Career and technical ??
  • Institute of Education Sciences
  • – career technical skills
  • contact:

Hardware and Software

  • Member management software
    • desk time BAD
    • ConArtists NYC wrote their own software and is looking for help - - (saw a demo that night - it’s OK)
    • Requirements for MMS
      • POS
      • Access control for tools
      • monitoring tool use
      • CRM
      • tool lock out – VERY IMPORTANT
      • tool scheduling
      • RFID
      • common interface to shop tools with an API
    • home grown solution posted on slack
    • leverage gym membership software
    • Consortium needed to develop
    • tiered access to space/tools
      • guarantee training complete before access
      • age restrictions
  • Insurance
    • tool lock very important for some spaces for insurance purposes
    • Can there be a federal insurer like the FDIC
    • New Jersey is extremely expensive insurance wise - $8000 a month
    • Several people had suggestions of insurers that are friendly to makerspaces
      • Eric Adler
      • Brian Patton
  • Safety Best Practices
    • manage risk
    • waivers (in another session somebody mentioned TechShop has an awesome waiver to use as a model)
    • create common waivers, training, machine access, etc. across all makerspaces
    • look at other businesses that do this already and how they handle liability
  • Tool breaking
    • vending machines for consumables including routing bits
    • using tool lock outs to determine who broke a tool
    • people badge in but won’t badge out
    • have people provide their own router bits, drill bits, etc.
  • Software
    • We need better tool chains for CNC
    • Google is interested in helping with this
    • standardization for CNC software
  • 3D printer consumable tracking a problem
    • filament usage tracking is hard - people are working on this
    • Matt Stultz
  • Sound Abatement
  • IOT for tool automation
  • Sharing information & the military
    • The military need a way to share making information, but it can’t be public
    • Onshape is an example

Conflict Resolution

  • Bad actors and how to deal with them
  • Sometimes the board isn't responsive
  • It's against the hacker ethos to kick people out
  • No one wants to be the bad guy
  • Sexual harassment an issue
  • Rarely happens in public
  • It can be difficult to know the truth

Impact Research Our host and organizer of ‘Nation of Makers’, Andrew Coy, stopped in at the beginning of the session. He mentioned that these less-structured meetings were in part an experiment to see how we’d organize ourselves and develop a ‘Community of Practice’. He also observed that meetings are not where you solve the problem, the goal is more to identify and define the problems.

The session covered both qualitative and quantitative measures of impact. I think Bloominglabs is solid on the first, could improve on the second. For example, the concept of ‘Oral History’ of a space was brought up, and the HacDC person mentioned there not being much information available about certain periods in the spaces’ history. We have a pretty good handle on our history.

The question of ‘what do you want to measure’ was raised. Some suggestions:

  • ‘building connection and meaning’ (this one’s very qualitative)
  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Community
  • Education
  • Youth Education
  • Activities that lead to employment, or develop marketable skills

A guy mentioned measuring activity in his space via the access system. dosman and I have been collecting data this way and with sensors around the space for years. The visualization of the data and use of it to identify usage patterns and ‘business’ of the space could be better. Bergen McMurray from HiveBio was there, she works with Tableau and mentioned we may be eligible for free(?) licenses. Action: follow up with Bergen on that. Action: make some cool infographics and stuff.

Everybody generally agreed there should ideally be some centralized website as a resource to keep everybody communicating and collaborating after we go back home, so having a ‘special interest group’ on the topic of data collection and analysis would be a very good thing.

Some resources for research on academic studies about the impact of Makerspaces:

  • paper about Fablab Tulsa in May/June issue
  • (my suggestion, they can look at Austin Toombs’ thesis and stuff along those lines)

A suggestion from NYC Resistor: when applying for a grant in your impact statement be optimistic with your estimate, then mention in ‘risks’ factors that might get in the way of fully realizing those estimates. It's possible to go overboard with skepticism up front and hurt your chances.

Last point and I thought this was a good idea. When users of the space ‘check out’ after visiting, they’re presented with a one-question survey: ‘were you successful today?’, and they click a happy or sad face to answer. Later it was pointed out that would probably not fly at Blabs. Fair enough but something along those lines that fit better into our culture could be creatively conceived

  • Action: create form to gather info as part of new visitor process (could just be ‘how did you hear about us’)
  • Action: see if you can raise interest in a ‘kiosk’ project. If you can’t, do it yourself

Marketing Session

This one was kind of a spitballing session. The alphas here were a woman from Geekspace Gwinett (fun fact: Geekspace was in the running as our name, I always liked ‘I.C. Local 555’ myself), who’s done a lot of marketing work and shared that ‘we have no budget - my husband has told me I’ve got to stop spending money on this’. The other alpha was a guy who was either elected (I showed up late so I missed the bus on that) or stepped up for the role. He had a pad of paper and would point at people and generally say things firmly and seriously.


  • The A-Number-One way to promote your space is to make a cool project and have it go viral. One guy made a Rick ‘n’ Morty portal gun that got a bazillion views. ‘Say yes to things that break the internet’ (this is kind of like ‘say yes to winning the lottery’, but it’s marketing so people are going to talk this way).
  • A woman suggested making Pokeballs. I suspect the ship may have sailed on that one but there are some cool Pokeball projects out there.

The importance of documenting projects well was stressed. At Bloominglabs some of our members do this well, and we took a stab at the Instructables Makerspace Contest, but we could always do more and do better.

Suggestions and comments from the room

  • Reach out to art schools for help w/ documenting and design
  • Consider an intern – there’s a program via Americorps – March Deadline
  • Home Depot and Apple Store were also mentioned

I have a note ‘1/3 Reliable’ (???)

Market your space through

  • Events
    • Parties
    • Classes
    • Fix-it Fridays
    • Retro Video game/MAME nights!
    • Coding/S/W meetups (like ‘coffee and code’ mentioned in the morning sessions)

It’s important to have ‘consistent verbiage’ in all event announcements and communications (‘Bloominglabs is blahblahblah’ - followup - Steve did this as part of the press release).

Additionally, ‘always have a press release ready’ (Action: write up a press release - done).

It’s a good idea to collect information as part of the tour process. One of the people there mentioned a kiosk at their space for new people as well as members. I thought this was a great idea. Another suggestion: script your tour (not sure this would work for us. The tour process has been fairly loose. Additionally, I believe it's better to get a sense of new visitors' interests, and customize the tour accordingly). However it occurred to me I had made a video of a drone ‘fly through’ of the space – combining that with some narration could be a fun ‘scripted tour’.

Where to drop materials: library, coffee shop, etc (no big revelations there). Word of mouth is super important.

I talked to a guy from Chimera about websites mentioning we have a wiki and it’s not exactly general-public friendly. He said he uses Squarespace and while you have to pay for it, it gives nicer results than a wiki without having to do the ground-up website thing (fun as that is).

On the topic of QR usage, levels of enthusiasm were mixed.

Consider car magnets (we haven’t tried this).

SEO is important (We’ve given this zero consideration to my knowledge - it's been discussed on the Facebook group including mass link sharing. I suppose we could go crazy with cross-linking but something more sophisticated (and helpful to end users) is worth exploring).

There was an abundance of tool talk, specifically around member management, event management, and tools for communicating.

Somebody said ‘you should use SeltzerCRM, it was designed specifically for hackerspaces’. Other people like CiviCRM. About 20% of the people had rolled their own.

A lot of people REALLY like Bloominglabs has avoided it because of the cost (low budget? No budget!). Some people swear by it, though. One person said 70% of people come to the space via You do have to watch out b/c cost is based on the size of your group, so watch out for spammers!

A complaint re: Meetup was it integrates poorly with Facebook. Actually that was about the only mention of Facebook aside from some very disparaging comments about Facebook ads (I looked into this once and likewise thought it was sucky in terms of value offered for the price they were asking). On the other hand, the Facebook group organized for the meeting has proved to be a very useful channel for communication.

The TX/RX (one of the names I loved) person really likes mailchimp.

There was more talk about the ‘grand unified website’ that’s continued since in Slack and Facebook channels, but it was out of the scope of the meeting, I thought. Additionally it violated Andrew Coy’s ‘you don’t solve the problem at the meeting’ rule.

Regional Goals

We chose to ‘identify as South’ instead of going to the Midwest region meetup. The South was really well represented; our friends from LVL1 were there and I was reminded that there are in fact all kinds of rocket scientists down South (Huntsville, AL, KSC, etc) so yeah of course there’d be a strong maker culture there.

Andrew Coy stopped in. He said his big goal is to create a trade organization by the end of the year. He referred again to the 4H model ($90million/yr) and a big goal is to address sustainable funding.

At one point Maker Faire was brought up. Somebody complained about the licensing fee and Jenett mentioned Makevention and a person from Georgia said they do an independent Maker Convention, too. Somebody then said something about ‘don’t hop into somebody else’s idea’ and seemed put off about the complaints, another guy said ‘Make’s why I’m here’. It didn’t turn into a kerfluffle, though, just some mostly respectful disagreement.

After the meeting

We met a couple people from the meeting at a bar (‘The Big Hunt’) in DC afterwards. There was some spirited conversation, including an entertaining rant about 3D printers (general gist was laser cutters tend to be more useful on the whole, and get eclipsed by the 3D printers). On a more serious note there was general agreement that it was a good event and it would be great if it happened every year. Somebody observed that preserving the ‘invite only’ aspect would give the meeting a curated quality, and when somebody suggested having the meeting someplace else, the response was ‘most of us probably decided to spend the money to go to this thing because it was the White House’ (true in our case).

There’s been a flurry of activity since the meeting in a Facebook group and some Slack Channels, and Andrew Coy has sent some follow-up emails including helpful suggestions and even phases of the project with deadlines. There's also been a follow up conference call (Sept. 1). So I (Steve) believe it was genuine and for now it looks like more will come of this.

Take away points and actions


Aside from a few minor complaints about the sometimes unfocused afternoon sessions I had a very favorable opinion of the meeting. I will probably be accused of naivete but I believe the government folks we encountered had a genuine interest in supporting the Makerspace mission, including providing funding to enhance our efforts. I also got the sense they ‘get it’, and not just because the one guy had stickers on his laptop (although that was cool). For the most part these people have worked in the private sector, and in general in the real world there’s not such a sharp border dividing ‘government people’ from ‘the rest of us’. In the meeting and in communications since I’ve appreciated Andrew Coy’s guidance and suggestions about conducting effective meetings and getting results, including a defense of the much-maligned word ‘compromise’ (as a consensus organization we can handle that, though).

In terms of doing things

  • My ‘long time dream’ is having more focused meet-ups. I’d like to go at that again, using some of the ideas from this meeting. Among other things I’d like to have some sort of focused activities, possibly on-going projects, for visitors to the space and/or members to work on at Public Nights.
  • Consider paying for services since our ‘no budget’ approach to marketing and services is holding us back in some ways. I’d say look into spending a bit of money and time on a nicer site. If somebody legit wants to take that on, great, but I don’t want to wait 8 months for somebody to do that when they get around to it, also I dread an unmaintainable mess being left behind. We should consider using Meetup, at least for a while to see how it does. Also, I’ll look at Mailchimp
  • I need to get in touch on the Tableau stuff and come up with some better visualizations of the ‘data exhaust’ of our activities over the years. In a follow up meeting LaserDan offered to look into this since he's a professional DataViz guy, so stay tuned.
  • I thought the kiosk idea particularly as a way to gather info sounded great. We should put something together w/ one of the AG150s. Linking it into the RFID system would actually be pretty easy (ask me how).
  • On that note, it’s time to explore RFID lockout for tools.
*I talked to dosman about looking at indexing and tuning the SimpleInvoices database to address the fact that it’s so freaking slow. (done - I tuned that thing, it’s fast now!)
*I plan to post at least one blog post, meet up with at least the board (done), and send a brief email to Andrew Coy thanking him for hosting the meeting and providing feedback (done).
*I will keep up with the post-meetup activity in the social media and e-mail spheres.

My actions extracted from the text above:

  • Follow up with Steve Backs on Approx $100K grants via the Institute for Museum and Library Services that was mentioned at the NSF thing.
  • Drum up interest in a kiosk project
  • Write up a press release - done
  • Create form to gather info as part of new visitor process (could just be ‘how did you hear about us’)
  • Report back to the board and members - done


Jenett really loved the HacDC approach of putting the VP in charge of IT for the space. We definitely have members who could hold that down so next time we elect board members we should make that an official board position with that as one of the responsibilities. In a follow up meeting, Joey agreed that was a good idea, but suggests we just call that person CTO.

Links TODO - more including resources being shared following the meeting.

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