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How to develop a makerspace: from proposal to production

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This article will provide you with the fundamentals on how to develop a makerspace from a proposal to production. Inspired by the success experienced by Jade Garret at George Mason University while starting the Mason Information Exchange (MIX), which was the first of its kind at her University. This article will discuss some the challenges and strategies to overcome them, so that you can effectively influence your campus. 

Needs and Goals:

Students need a makerspace in order to have a place to collaborate and bring projects to fruition with physical prototypes. Many times, resources and spaces that can be used to fulfill each of these needs is present at a university, but, they are often scattered with limited access and a high barrier to entry. Such was the case at George Mason. So, the goal is to fulfill the need for a space with resources to collaborate and work on projects in such a way that the space is centralized and is easy to access and use for students of all backgrounds.


There are several key levels of support required for an on campus makerspace. First of all, students must be interested. No administrator is going to allocate space and resources unless the demand for the space exists, along with a subset of students that can help manage it. Second, having a faculty or staff member who fully supports the project and who will stick his or her neck out for the space is extremely important, according to Jade. Additionally, have a group of faculty members (professors or administrators) to serve as advisors for the space. For maximum effectiveness, these advisors should come from all of the manjor schools at your university. Finally, the space will most likely require the support of at least one administrator in order to obtain the necessary space and funding.


When initially pitching a makerspace to facility and staff, it is important to have a proposal developed ahead of time. Having a proposal puts your idea into a tangible form which can easily be passed along to university faculty and staff. It may be useful to develop a proposal that has low end, midrange, and high end options. This method allows for potential collaborators and investors to understand what is required in terms of both money and resources to create a makerspace. Some proposal writing tips include discussing collaborations between departments and sustainability. By bringing in students, faculty, and staff from multiple departments, you can gain more support for your makerspace and more potential avenues for funding.

An important aspect of the proposal is the value proposition of your makerspace. In other words, what value will this space serve to both the students and the university. A starting point here is that a makerspace will give students access to tools and technology that they didn't previously have. This can be value proposition can be expanded by offering examples of possible learning experiences, collaborations, and skills that can be made possible through the makerspace.


One of the greatest challenges in creating a makerspace is securing funding. Fortunately, there are many potential sources of funding available within your university and externally. An initial resource is seeking funding from project stakeholders (department chairs, deans, upper university administration, etc.). Your stakeholders will already be familiar with the project and may know of other sources of funding in addition to what they can give to the project. Looking beyond the university, corporate sponsorship is a potential source of funding. Before approaching any companies, get in contact with the person at your university who is responsible from getting money from industry. This is extremely important as universities often have deals in the works with companies which could fall through as a result. Getting permission from your university deans and upper administration is strongly recommended before pursuing this avenue for funding. Other options for funding include starting a Kickstarter campaign, requesting funding from Venturewell (, having a fundraiser (if permitted by your university) or by holding workshops/events that have a small entrance fee. No matter the source of funds, always be transparent and have proof that the funds went towards the intended cause.

Once initial funding has been obtained, it is important to consider how the makerspace can be sustainable. Over time, equipment will need to be fixed or replaced and consumables (3D printer filament, markers, prototyping supplies, etc.) will need to be purchased. It is important to plan for these costs ahead of time and either budget them into your initial funding proposal or have a source of funding established for when these funds are needed. Also, it is okay to start small and then acquire more equipment and resources based on demand and usage. While it may be impressive to have multiple 3D printers, this is only cost effective if there is demand for multiple of the same machine.

Space Management:

Once a makerspace facility has been established, it is important to consider how the space will be managed. The first thing to determine is who will be held liable for anything that goes wrong in the makerspace. This person needs to be a faculty member at your university. In terms of day to day management of the space, there are a number of options including university faculty, graduate assistants, paid student workers or volunteers. This choice may be one that your university will make for you due to liability reasons. If volunteers are chosen as the primary way to manage the space, they should be fully trained in all relevant safety procedures.

The next consideration is who will have access to the space and when will they be able to access it. The Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that is tasked with enforcing health and safety related legislation. This organization is able to shut down any facility if deemed a safety risk, so it is important to control makerspace access. Only those who have received proper safety training should be able to access the makerspace. Since training people may be an time consuming task, the “pay-it-forward” model can be used where in exchange for receiving safety training, a new member must train two new members. As far as when access is permitted, these time(s) should be decided in accordance with the available makerspace “staff” and any other university rules. One possible option for restricting access to the space is an RFID door access system where student’s university ID card can be used to enter the space. This gives those who run the makerspace the ability to give access to only those who have received all the training, limit the times they can enter the room and keep track of who uses the space.Other procedures that need to be established include opening and closing procedures, how to report and fix broken machinery, and how to order new supplies.


A common problem in universities is that many of the tools and other resources need for a makerspace already exist on campus, but there is no open access to these resources or no collaboration between departments. It is important not to double up on equipment and staff, so if at all possible establish partnerships with departments to use their equipment.

To get you thinking about potential equipment, here is a list of equipment that the Mason Innovation Exchange (MIX) and other makerspaces have:


  • 3-D printers
  • Laser engraver
  • Sewing machine
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Soldering equipment
  • Microcontroller library
  • Prototyping supplies (See Makerspace Supplies)

Other Resources

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Fume hood for soldering

Gathering Empirical Data:

Whether you are convincing a jury or you are trying to convince stakeholders to offer their resources towards your project, having empirical data will be the key to your success. Having concrete data that shows that a makerspace is wanted and needed by the student body. Stakeholders need to have the ability to justify what they spend their budget on, and they are not going to do the research for you. Therefore being able to approach stakeholders with relevant, accurate and persuasive data will determine your success.
There are many ways to gather information about the interest of your student body towards your project and the effectiveness will differ based on campus culture. That being said here are a few ideas to get you started…

  • Start an emailing list.
  • Start a Facebook page.
  • Send out surveys.
  • Talking with clubs.
  • Hosting competitions.
  • Add people to the emailing list by engaging with students around campus asking about their interest and asking .them to sign-up for the emailing list.

Generating Excitement and Increasing Awareness:

There is a wide variety of ways to promote the makerspace throughout one’s campus and greater community.  Below is a detailed list with effective recommendations to get started.

  • Host welcoming events: When the space first opens, hold opening/welcoming events and find ways to get exposure through social media or a student/local newspaper.
  • Get existing clubs involved: A simple way to gain initial involvement is to invite existing clubs and organizations whose mission is revolved around innovation and creation to the space, both to host meetings and to utilize the space itself.  This is an effective approach because the students who already belong to those clubs will most likely benefit from the addition of the makerspace, and will be excited about having access to it.
  • Host events: Hosting events on campus is an easy way to spread awareness and excitement regarding the makerspace.  Events can range from creating a display and handing out pamphlets and freebies in the middle of a school union or commonly populated place on campus, to hosting a competition that involves the spirit of innovation. Eventbrite is a great web based tool to keep track of event attendance.
  • Create a website or Facebook page: By creating an easily accessible space on the internet, those who are interested can learn more about makerspace, become updated on new things that are happening, and contact or get in touch with those who run the space to get questions answered.
  • Use a “pay it forward” approach for training/added involvement:  Require anyone who becomes trained to work in the makerspace to train at least one other person as well.  This will automatically increase the volume of students involved, as well as ensuring a safe environment for all in the space.

​Written By:

By:Reid Fuente, Suzy Dorsey, Devin Spatz, Cameron Crasto and Zach Patterson