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create / 2014

i.am Makerspace: Empowering Creators in Disadvantaged Communities

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by i.am.angel Foundation

Our i.am Makerspace will empower the next generation of creators and innovators in underserved communities.


Please describe yourself.

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

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Our i.am Makerspace will empower the next generation of creators and innovators in underserved communities.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

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

  • East LA
  • Boyle Heights, Downtown LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The i.am.angel Foundation is building a makerspace in Boyle Heights to revitalize a historic “maker” community and turn this neighborhood into a model for success. Once a thriving area of creators and manufacturers, much of Boyle Heights now feels like an industrial desert. At our i.am Makerspace, we’ll provide top-notch education and mentorship, bringing high-tech skills to an underserved community. Combined with its rich history of making, Boyle Heights can become a hub for innovation. Not only does uplift a struggling neighborhood, but it creates a better Los Angeles – by cultivating a larger pool of talent coming from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. Rebuilding America starts with rebuilding neighborhoods like Boyle Heights.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The i.am Makerspace will provide the following:

EDUCATION: We will focus on high-tech skills-based education. We will provide classes and workshops in coding, app development, robotics, product design, 3D printing, prototyping, web development, graphic design, entrepreneurship and business plan formation.

MENTORSHIP: We will provide a forum for mentorship between local aspiring entrepreneurs and experienced business experts. Through will.i.am’s support, our team is well-connected to the worlds of entertainment, technology, philanthropy, and investment not just in Los Angeles but on an international level. We can attract world-class experts to share their knowledge with our i.am Makers.

CREATIVE SPACE: Our space will be a creative studio that fosters local innovation. We will provide coworking space to locally-focused startups, as well as studio space to promising local artists and artisans. We will also dedicate space for K-12 students to play and learn through STEM activities, host several neighborhood FIRST robotics teams, and host hackathons. It will be a space for the cross-pollination of ideas that leads to innovation.

OPPORTUNITY: We aim to create a network of skilled professionals who are capable of creating jobs in tech and startups, not just in Boyle Heights but for the entire city of Los Angeles.

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

An i.am Makerspace in Boyle Heights will benefit ALL of Los Angeles, not just the east side.

Here’s why:

This space improves the creative ecosystem for the entire city of Los Angeles, by fostering a larger and more diverse pool of entrepreneurial talent. The future needs solutions that involve innovation from everyone.

This space will foster entrepreneurship in a struggling community that is burdened with crime, violence, and unemployment. By providing education and opportunity, we will empower local residents to gain the high-demand and high-paying skills needed to work in tech, or even create their own tech companies.

This has a halo effect on many other factors. Not only could it boost the local economy, creating jobs for local young people, but they will also be more likely to stay in the neighborhoods and continue to improve them. It could reduce crime and violence, and increase safety in these struggling neighborhoods and surrounding areas.

Our mission is for the i.am Makerspace to be a model for other similar communities around the world.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our most immediate goal is serving the people of Boyle Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. We want to turn Boyle Heights into a model community, with ideas and practices that could be adapted by similar underserved neighborhoods around the country.

Boyle Heights is a working-class, mostly immigrant, youthful neighborhood of almost 100,000 residents. The district has over 20 public schools, many of which have a reputation of being “dropout factories.” Just 5% of Boyle Heights residents aged 25 and older had earned a four-year degree by 2000, an abysmally low percentage for the city.

The conditions are grim for the youth of Boyle Heights, so we aim to serve primarily students and young adults including:

  • K-12 students
  • Young adults (18-30) who are not in college or have 4-year degrees
  • Recent graduates who are struggling to find jobs
  • Veterans
  • Local makers, artisans, and artists

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

The i.am.angel Foundation has existing partnerships with leading tech companies and organizations, who are all ready to expand and take our programs to the next level. Here are some of our confirmed collaborators who have an excellent track record of supporting creators:

FIRST Robotics: FIRST Robotics is the premier, international robotics competition for K-12 students founded by inventor Dean Kamen. i.am.angel recently founded and sponsored the first ever FIRST Robotics team at Roosevelt High School, and we have the structure and fundraising power to sponsor and support several more teams in Boyle Heights and surrounding neighborhoods. We want the i.am Makerspace to be a hub for local FIRST teams.

Esri: Esri’s ArcGIS is the premier tool used by GIS mapping professionals all over the world. We’ve teamed up with Esri to teach Boyle Heights students how to use sophisticated ArcGIS software to map their own data to highlight issues such as gang violence, pollution, and health and wellness. We’re ready to provide the same training to anyone interested in becoming a GIS data scientist, which doesn’t require an advanced degree, and can open up a new world of job opportunities.

Dassault Systems: Dassault’s CATIA 3D design software is used by top aerospace and car companies such as Boeing and GM. We teamed with Dassault to teach Boyle Heights students how to use this sophisticated industry software to design and prototype their own products such as electronics and musical instruments.

3D Systems: 3D Systems is a top 3D Printing company that has teamed up with will.i.am on creative innovation. They will be providing 3D printers to all i.am.angel program spaces in Boyle Heights.

General Assembly: General Assembly is an ed tech company that has been great supporters of our Hack for LA hackathons, and we’d love to team up with them to provide high-tech skills training such as web and app development to Boyle Heights residents. i.am.angel plans to subsidize the cost of these workshops in order to make classes more affordable for the Boyle Heights community.

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

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Concentration of manufacturing activity in LA
  • Jobs per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Number of high-growth startups
  • Venture capital investment
  • Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)
  • Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

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

Boyle Heights and its surrounding communities are struggling and falling further behind in most of the above metrics including unemployment, crime, women and minority owned businesses, K-12 education and college access. The i.am Makerspace will provide high-quality and high-tech programming to an area that rarely has access to such opportunities. We believe it will not just impact but vastly transform the development of these neighborhoods.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. We will look closely at attendance and results of the program’s classes and events. We will survey participants of their experience, aiming for value, diversity and cross-pollination.

  2. We will track success stories and chronicle them in our website and other social media platforms. We will write articles and produce video content.

  3. We will monitor socioeconomic effects on the community, looking at factors such as the creation of local businesses and jobs.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

We’ve proven that we’re invested in Boyle Heights by launching the i.am College Track program, a successful after-school college readiness program which serves 300 high school students from Roosevelt High School.

We’ve also learned what is possible from launching the first ever FIRST Robotics Team in Boyle Heights, despite much difficulty in working with the public school system.

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

We already have a space identified in the historic Sears Building in Boyle Heights, and a great team to execute. We just need the kickstarter capital to start funding instructors and bringing in makerspace equipment. We also have proven fundraising mechanisms and support from several community partners ready to invest in this project.

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

Outreach to the community is one concern. We want to make sure we serve members of the community that do not normally have access to such maker and entrepreneurial opportunities. As a working class immigrant community, there can be hesitation at first to explore something new, but we plan to community outreach through our students and their parents to build trust within the community.

Gang violence is also a concern. The area of Boyle Heights is still known for violent gang-related activities and we worry about safe passage for our constituents, especially for students and young people. At our i.am Makerspace, we must guarantee a safe venue for our community members.

What resources does your project need?

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