create / 2014

Droplabs

Droplabs

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Droplabs

Droplabs is bursting at the seams. We want to expand our services to include more space, maker offerings, and more classes.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Droplabs is bursting at the seams. We want to expand our services to include more space, maker offerings, and more classes.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • Our central location is in Lincoln Heights, but we take our programs to many of our partners’ locations throughout LA County.

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Classes, Community, Coworking and More Droplabs is a low cost, collaborative coworking space, computer lab, classroom and makerspace in Los Angeles, California. We’re also a business incubator, and have services, programs and workspace uniquely designed for entrepreneurs, freelancers, lifelong learners and remote workers. Our community consists of members who support each other personally and professionally in a positive environment.

Teach & Learn with Droplabs Academy! Droplabs Academy is community-driven, crowdsourced education. We host classes on all kinds of topics, from Python programming to the underground history of comic books. From alternative currencies to culinary field trips.

We have outgrown our space & need to expand.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Droplabs is bursting at the seams. Where other coworking spaces cost from $250 - $450 for a monthly membership & up, we charge $25 for a monthly membership, $150 for 24/7 access, or $5 per day. We need to scale without raising prices.

We currently have a self-led video mentoring program where visitors can choose from our extensive video library to learn different and advanced web programming skills. We’ve seen people come to Droplabs with the most basic computer skills take on new clients after a couple of months. We would expand this program to include more disciplines.

We’re also an incubator. There’s a community at Droplabs to support budding entrepreneurs while they navigate all of the tricky aspects of running their own business, from motivation to how to price their skills. We’ve had about 50 startups run through Droplabs. We’re a natural choice for bootstrapping startups. We would offer more programs for startups, as well as find funding opportunities for them.

Another program that we’re particularly fond of is our Barnraisings with Coders with a Cause. For a non-profit we’ll gather a team of developers at different experience levels & from start to finish build or improve the non-profit’s website.

We break up into teams pairing experienced developers with less experienced developers, & use the opportunity to teach aspects of how to build a large website, from requirements gathering to deployment, using open source tools, using professional workflows, in a professional team. Everyone benefits. We would expand this program.

While we’ve taught electronics classes at Droplabs & have had members build everything from a hands-free mouse to drones that can go 80 miles an hour, we’re really not set up as a fully fledged makerspace yet, but getting maker equipment is at the top of our wishlist. We already have people who can teach CAD, circuitry, & robotics. We have some of the brightest minds in LA willing to teach all sorts of things in a friendly, fun way.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

Droplabs helps people remove the boundaries that stop them from changing their lives. I wish this were something that we could claim as our intention when we started, but it happened as a by-product of growing our community organically. We nurture this whenever we can.

It’s a lot of little things.

It’s giving each member adult responsibility for the environment they’re working in, and responsibility for what they learn, and sitting back while people take responsibility for the directions of their own lives. It’s respecting the decisions they make.

It’s trusting people to put money in a fishbowl when they get snacks.

It’s one member getting too much lunch on purpose and sharing it with people he knows don’t have a lot of money.

It’s making sure people feel comfortable and welcome when they arrive, and making sure that people feel good about where they are on their journey no matter what their skill level.

It’s showing each other that we all have something to teach, as well as learn.

It’s taking our programs on the road to people in other neighborhoods.

It’s partnering with great organizations with shared values.

It’s having people there who have already accomplished a lot who are there to help others gain the necessary skills to operate as a freelancer or run a business.

It’s providing a great environment to work, so that the skilled and the curious come.

It’s letting people know that there are free tools out there to help them build or learn what they need.

It’s making decisions by consensus.

It’s providing a safe place where people can feel comfortable enough to unleash their imaginations.

It’s nurturing a culture of innovation recognizing the wealth that we have around us, just by being alive right now.

Whom will your project benefit?

Droplabs started out as a way for freelance & open source programmers to learn from each other & collaborate on projects that were larger & more lucrative than the ones that they could take on alone. We still do this, but Droplabs has grown beyond that in many ways.

We want to continue our focus on open source & free tools, where we have had enormous success. From hosting open source meetups & classes to coordinating groups taking free online classes to job & career fairs. We have found that leveraging these in combination & in community to be a huge multiplier for learning effort.

Next, the startups came. Droplabs is a no-brainer for entrepreneurs. The cost of most coworking spaces is too luxurious for most bootstrapping startups – especially in the early stage. We are decidedly no-frills. We don’t have Aeron chairs or consciously placed rough granite. We do have free parking & a great community of innovative thinkers who are helpful & kind.

The big thing missing from the free university classes offered online is the motivation & persistence that comes from personal experience with other classmembers. (One of our members’ teams beat out 20,000 other students in the Stanford Entrepreneurship class for their Entrepreneurship challenge. We couldn’t be more proud.)

After that, the unemployed found it. There isn’t a big leap between being unemployed & being an entrepreneur. It’s more of a mindset. Some use their unemployment checks as seed funding to build their startups. Others learned new skills & took on clients. Many have been abused by a harsh system, & find confidence & comradeship in a safe environment, blossoming as individuals.

After that, the crowdfunders found it. & the business people. & Droplabs became a full-fledged incubator, with a constellation of supportive advisors, attorneys & others.

People who come to Droplabs have basic computer skills already, & bring their own laptops.

We want to exp& our services to grow our meager makerspace facilities (we have equipment for electronics) & purchase classroom computers. We already have close partnerships with machine & fabrication shops. We already hold job fairs & career fairs for the software industry. We would like to do the same for other industries as we are able to offer more diversity in skills training, & as we grow our community.

Droplabs is for community minded individuals who wish to put effort into growing professionally & personally.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Founding partners 3D Avatar Store Chernick Consulting Exaltation of Larks INCERA SOLUTIONS Medium Digital Studio

Education partners BuildAModule Drupalize.me OSTraining Drupal Watchdog APT College LA City College Chapter Three Exaltation of Larks Syyn Labs

Meetup groups we’ve hosted Greater Los Angeles Drupal (GLAD) Northeast LA User Experience (NELAUX) Los Angeles Chess LA DevOps DIY Girls Los Angeles Salesforce Developer Group E-Commerce Merchants Southern California Domainers Meetup Group

Technology partners Intel Microsoft BizSpark The Droplabs membership

Conferences where we’ve exhibited SCALE, the Southern California Linux Expo Pasadena Earth & Arts Festival 3D Printer World Expo Greater Los Angeles Drupal Camp

Nonprofits we’ve built websites for TimeBanks USA Our Time Bank Arroyo S.E.C.O. Network of Time Banks Surf Corps

Nonprofits we’ve raised over $1,000 for LA Food Bank

*Event Partners - either Sponsors, Co-Production or Events we’ve Hosted BlueHost Kids on Computers BlazeMeter Ciplex SSD Software Solutions Citrus Studios Joico Yahoo, Inc. Riot Games Drupal Association Intel Monster Assembly Opodz Princess Cruises OneDayCareer.com Pixelrow Innovate Studio SendGrid Pixelgate Networks MediaTemple The Recording Academy (GRAMMY.com) Sensis Agency Surf Corps Pasadena Media Teachers Test Prep TenTek TimeBanks USA UCLA Library Winky Networks Varnish Software Pantheon Systems Trellon Lingotek Realty Mogul JetBrains X-Team Filter Digital The Cherry Hill Company Califormulated BlackMesh Kalamuna CG Master Academy Fountain City Productions LinuxChix LA SoftLayer, an IBM Company

Sponsors and exhibitors at our job fairs 3D Avatar Store American Public Media Avanti Interactive SageTree Solutions KWALL Exaltation of Larks IJHANA Gofobo Loconuts Patexia CivicActions Filter Digital Qconnects MJD Interactive JustDeals Achieve Internet Microsoft WebMatrix Oversee.net SaaSMAX Stauffer New Media Development Chernick Consulting TheWrap.com

We anticipate that there will be many more…

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA
  • Federal research grant funding
  • Patents per capita
  • Jobs per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Gini coefficient
  • Number of high-growth startups
  • Venture capital investment
  • Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Employment in creative industries: We train people to get or create work. We hold job and career fairs. We collaborate with each other on projects that would go elsewhere.

Arts establishments per capita: People are encouraged to teach and learn everything here. We have had arts classes taught here, and have had artists and designers work here. We also help grow startups.

Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA: We will provide low cost access and training for the cutting edge digital design and digital manufacturing that will make it cost effective to keep manufacturing local. This will be part of our mission when we expand our makerspace capabilities. We have partners with full manufacturing capabilities who want to hire for these skills. Also, we help grow startups.

Federal research grant funding: We have had several Droplabs participants apply and receive federal grants. We will get them to do a workshop on their experiences. (Thanks for the idea!) We will seek affiliation with people who have expertise in this area.

Patents per capita: This will come through our makerspace and through our web and mobile application development training. We also have several IP attorneys who want to provide workshops.

Jobs per capita, Minority- and women-owned firms , the Gini coefficient, Number of high-growth startups: These are probably the areas where we have the most impact already. We provide free or low cost training to both members and non-members. We hold job fairs. We help grow startups.

Venture Capital Investment: We are already partnering with an organization who does crowdfunding for equity. We will be bringing in VC’s and Angels to give workshops. We help grow startups.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We have a number of different metrics that we will use to track Droplabs’ progress in different areas. The most general metric is membership numbers. How many new members do we get? How long do they stay? Education metrics: the number of classes taught, the number of students attending. Number of freelancers and startups helped: We can ask on our application; we can watch for collaborations.
Number of job fairs and the number of jobs that come from these and from introductions. We also intend to do a regular membership survey.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

The initial impulse to create Droplabs came about because learning open source technologies is challenging. Often documentation lags behind the technology so that you need to learn a new way of learning that isn’t taught in school and involves learning from a community of people. It turns out that the techniques that apply in this situation are also good for learning other things too.

While the initial idea was for learning, the most exciting thing about Droplabs was, and still is, the sharing of ideas. There’s a rhythm to working there. People are silent and focused for a while, then a discussion breaks out, then people work silently again. It’s like breathing, this constant flow of ideas. This way of working is so much less stressful and more productive that, at the end of the day, you get more work done than if you had been at home, and you’re still fresh to enjoy your evening.

Droplabs’ physical location is at Big Art Labs, a large arts complex in Lincoln Heights that is a “haven for creative engineers, a hotbed for wild technology, and a lair of percolating thought”. Putting a technology incubator in the middle of an arts community doesn’t at first seem logical, but it makes sense if you want people to be thinking creatively.

It also encourages thought diversity. So many people are specializing now that they don’t know that the solution to their esoteric problem might be someone else’s bread and butter.

We’ve learned that people who are in vulnerable positions, are less vulnerable when they have guidance from those who have trod the path before, and can find new goals and collaborators to help them reach those goals.

This is a very exciting time to be creating. There are new ways of forming businesses that didn’t even exist ten years ago. The time has arrived where the tools to create have been democratized, and where the free stuff is often better than the products made by companies that have had IPOs. The missing ingredient is a culture to support people navigating this new path.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Building a startup usually takes several steps:

1) Get a prototype together; (We did this with our original founders.) 2) Get a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and get users; 3) Evolve with user input; 4) Get funding for growth.

When we started Droplabs three years ago, we decided to follow these steps for the brick and mortar organization that we were building. We are at the end of step three, and have been member led since day one. We’re ready to scale.

Step three for us looks like this: • We have a membership and culture that is bright, positive and supportive; • We have programs that are high value, low cost and repeatable; • We have a clear plan for how we want to grow; • Droplabs currently exists in a space that is smaller than 1000 square feet.

We have had enormous success with our programs and have outgrown our physical infrastructure. We want to continue what we’re doing, and grow to serve more people.

With the grant we intend to:

1) Expand our makerspace capabilities; 2) Move to larger digs; 3) Build software to manage it using barnraisings; 4) Build our own furniture, as needed, using the maker machines; 4) Hire someone part time to manage social media.

All of these are very achievable within a year.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Scaling and growth never comes without challenges, and we anticipate a few.

The processes we’ve evolved to manage Droplabs will need to scale. These processes include managing classrooms at multiple locations, managing membership, coordinating meetups, and managing maintenance of new equipment. We plan on using some of the money to work with our members to build the software using Barnraisings. We also anticipate that we will need to work with professionals for part of this.

We also know that managing and maintaining maker equipment and tools in good working order will need to have new processes in place, and new roles in our community to manage them. Again, we have several high quality advisors to help us implement maintenance schedules, and manage staff and volunteers around these.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach