Lis Bokt is the Executive Director of The Geek Group, a 43,000 square foot makerspace in Grand Rapids, MI, where individuals can work on projects, regardless of scope.
Geeks of the World: Unite!
Since we last spoke with Bokt in April, The Geek Group has grown from about 25,500 members to nearly 30,000. “Our members span the globe. We have a lot of members in the UK and Australia, and even have members in Bulgaria, Scandinavia, and Brazil,” says Bokt.
Even though using the facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan is not an option for these international members, they are able to take advantage of other opportunities. “Distant members get access through videos, the live streams we broadcast, and the benefit to having access to other members. We have various methods of communication set up for them, including a live chat room with a couple of hundred people at any given moment. So, for example, if there is a member building something in Bulgaria, s/he can still work with people in the US and get their input and advice.”
“We realize that not everyone is able to have the same commitment to being a member at The Geek Group, whether due to distance or desire, so we offer three different memberships. Anyone can be a member for free, which includes access to things such as our forums and live chats. For $20 a month, a member can access a live stream that they can control (which is separate from the free-to-all live stream). Our highest level of membership, for $40 a month, gives that person access to both livestreams, and to our facility. If you’re a paying member, there are more fun benefits, like being able to control some of the projects in the building. After regular hours, members can remotely control the lights in the building, and can make them change colors.”
With a growing number of memberships, The Geek Group is adding more programs to appeal to wider audiences. “We have two new additions: the WiseMaker Creative Reuse Shop and the Each 1 Teach 1 classes.”
WiseMaker Creative Reuse Shop
“The grand opening for the WiseMaker shop was on September 23. We really encourage people to be creative and think out-of-the-box with everything; to get them into artistic endeavors as well as scientific. We have been collecting supplies and materials from local manufacturers to give people access to materials in the WiseMaker shop that they can’t find otherwise. We have fabrics and auxiliary sewing materials, leftovers from manufacturing companies, etc. It is really fun to think what can be created by these things, and how much that differs from their original purpose.”
Each One Teach One
“We encounter people every day who are passionate about a subject and want to teach. We wanted to give people with the knowledge the opportunity to do that: to teach their passion to people who are interested in learning about it.”
“We have 5 classes that will be starting in the winter and quite a few people who are going through the initial process of planning their classes. Before it can become a class, we sit down with them and make sure the class idea is something viable. If it is, we see if the curriculum is something that will be beneficial for everyone, and then work out specifics like class length, available space, etc.”
“There is an additional cost to attend a class, which varies. Some classes will be just a couple of hours on one afternoon, while others may go for a couple of months, meeting one day a week. The classes are available to everyone, and members get discounts.”
Teardowns and Repairs
“We recently introduced scheduled programs onto our livestream (which are free to public). We have “Rocco’s Teardowns” every Saturday from 3:30-5:30pm and “Destructive Innovative Tuesday” on Tuesdays from 5-8pm. They’re neat – it is like reality TV, almost. You can hop into the chatroom while video is going on and talk to others who are viewing the same thing.
Visiting the Geek Group
For anyone who is interested, The Geek Group hosts a tour every Saturday at 12:30pm. “Tours include previews of the lab and the major areas that members can access. We do demonstrations, which differ from week to week. At the end of the tour, we do a Q & A session, which is usually when people ask about how they can utilize their membership or ask specific questions about a project. Both adults and children are welcome to attend,” explains Bokt.
The Geek Group occasionally hosts open houses, as well.
“Our open house in April went great. We did a 3D printing party, free to the public. It was a great opportunity for people to become familiar with 3D printing.”
“People were able to 3D print something they had previously designed, or something they designed that day. We made about 100 prints during the open house, and one of the local colleges that heard about it even offered extra credit to their animation students for printing their design. It was fun seeing their characters come to life, and to see their excitement in being able to hold something they designed.”
Although there is no date set for the next open house, Bokt gave the inside scoop: “We will be doing another one sometime this winter!”
Keeping an Open Ear
“We listen to members. If they come up with an idea, we try hard to make it happen. We have gradually been remodeling since we opened. Just recently, we started replacing this hideous, green tile that was here when we bought the place. One member said he would love to buy one. We thought it was a brilliant idea and created a website where people can purchase a signed tile. We’ve already sold quite a few! People really enjoy watching the progress, and this allows them to be part of it.”
“We really believe in the power of internships. We believe that if you are an intern, you should get something tangible from it. Our internships are available in every department and have been wildly successful. They are usually a semester long, with students getting college credit. We give our interns a level of responsibility and freedom that they don’t usually get anywhere else. But we’ve found that when we give them this responsibility and freedom, they’ve risen to the challenge and have been able to grow and succeed. They’ve done phenomenal work, and they end up leaving with a skill set that their peers never got the chance to develop at other internships.”
Applications can be found at www.TheGeekGroup.org/internships.
Afinia On Board
“We have 6 Afinia 3D Printers at our facility. They are fantastic. We use them all the time.”
“Recently, they’ve been used a lot for making prototypes. People are blown away when they see the quality of the prints and realize it is offered at a feasible cost. On top of initial cost, it’s amazing how little filament is actually used for each print. It’s very efficient. We were nervous about the Grand Rapids Maker Faire and how much filament we would use. We brought all of our printers and made a couple hundred prints at each faire, and we didn’t have to change out the filaments. It was great!”