Tampa Hackerspace Fosters Creation, Innovation & Collaboration

When was the last time you had a thought, invention or do-it-yourself project you wanted to make a reality, but didn't know where to start? More often than not, it seems as though an idea remains just that -- an idea. It's turning the idea into reality -- the creating -- that's the hard part.

Tampa Bay area resident Bill Shaw is all too familiar with this. That’s why he established Tampa Hackerspace, a membership-driven, creative group for hobbyists, inventors, makers and artists alike.

Created upon the idea of establishing a sustainable space for learning, creating and collaboration, Hackerspace enables community members to explore imagination and curiosity; to become thinkers and tinkers, creators and innovators.

Organized as a nonprofit corporation, Tampa Hackerspace's goal is to jumpstart projects that push limits and inspire a committed, innovative community. Always looking for ways to improve ready-made products while implementing original ideas of their own, members now have the resources to bring their concepts to life.

Shaw's efforts, as founder of Hackerspace, are backed by three goals: to foster a workshop and classroom space for the community at large, to provide a schedule of interesting and informative public classes and to create a community that enables sustainable operation.

"I realized that there weren't any publicly available workshops with advanced or sophisticated tools. The only classes available to learn skills were through traditional learning institutions that required either a substantial investment of time and money, or both,'' Shaw says. "We recognized that there wasn't a centralized place where software and hardware experts, technicians, artisans and hobbyists could find each other to collaborate on projects.''

Creating A Space For Hackers

Founded in 2012 by a small group of local Tampa Bay area residents, Tampa Hackerspace members planned to open a space for fellow creators; but according to Shaw, that plan eventually lost momentum. That is, until March 2013 when he stepped up to the plate.

"I grabbed the reins and took over an existing Facebook group of about 120 members,'' says Shaw, who also runs Inanimate Reason, an Apollo Beach company providing robotics after-school programs and camps for children, and Inspiration Labs, a local nonprofit with a mission to create hacker spaces and provide community education.

Today, Tampa Hackerspace has more than 800 members on Facebook and a home on the first floor of the historic Garcia y Vega cigar building in Ybor City, located directly underneath CoWork Tampa, a coworking loft in the converted cigar factory.

In August 2013, Hackerspace hosted a soft opening on the ground floor of the CoWork building, and now holds weekly classes and meetings.

"The [Hackerspace] space will push a lot of exposure for us because it will tap into different groups,'' says Chris Arnoldi, who founded CoWork Tampa in 2012. "It's so important for Tampa to have successful working spaces.''

Currently, Hackerspace is accepting members with options ranging between $50 per month for limited access to space resources and $100 per month for 24/7 access as a building keyholder. The group also hosts a number of free events open to the public.

Ybor City resident Josh Smith has attended a handful of Hackerspace meetings and believes the group inspires locals to think outside of the box, giving folks the confidence to create and collaborate in ways they haven't before and probably wouldn’t normally.

"Hackerspace is a great resource for anyone with an idea,'' Smith says. "Even if you haven't brought that idea to fruition yet -- even if it's still just a concept -- you can go to a meeting with that thought in tow and share while getting inspiration from others.''

And Hackerspace offers more than enough ways to both inspire and be inspired: Tuesday evenings they host Open Make Night, an evening where anyone (not just members) can bring their own projects, work with others and meet fellow innovators.

Sunday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Shaw hosts Kids Open Makes with activities focused on creative children. Kids, accompanied by an adult, can work on arts and crafts, build cool projects, play on a Minecraft server and make friends.

And throughout the week, Hackerspace offers a variety of public classes with topics ranging from soldering and sewing to lockpicking.

"We bring communities of makers, classes and equipment together in one place to create and empower people to try new things,'' Shaw says. "We plunge into the depths of some of the geekiest topics you can imagine.''

Looking To The Future

On January 14th, the future of Tampa Hackerspace took a giant step in the right direction when the group received a big chunk of change from a Kickstarter project: a community crowdfunding effort ended up with 157 backers and $16,185 pledged, exceeding the initial $10,000 goal.

Thanks to the successful campaign, Shaw can now purchase new equipment for members, including an upgraded 3D Delta Printer; a 48'' x 48'' CNC router for wood, plastic and aluminum; and a laser cutter for wood, acrylic, plastic and fabric.

Additionally, Hackerspace is in the process of establishing and hosting a series of classes for local elementary and middle school students ages 11 to 15. The free program will provide about 40 hours of instruction to up to 36 children, teaching electronics, programming and basic microcontroller skills as the kids build a piece of wearable art.

"We believe that maker activities not only engage and excite kids but can spark an interest in STEM and the arts, as well as develop their creative capabilities,'' Shaw says. "This is particularly important because studies indicate that an interest in science is more strongly predictive of a young person pursuing a STEM career.''

Wondering how you can get involved? Tampa Hackerspace has plans to launch a number of new programs in 2014 and is currently seeking members, class teachers, volunteers and a qualified electrician to work with on upgrading electrical power in the building.

For more information on Tampa Hackerspace, visit the Hackerspace website.

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found shopping local farmers markets, walking around her North Hyde Park neighborhood and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Davis Islands Seaplane Basin. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.