The Story of i3 Detroit

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The founding of i3 detroit largely started with Russ Wolfe. Russ read an article in Wired magazine that was talking about the growth and idea of hackerspaces. Russ started and worked on gathering a group of like-minded people, had a logo designed and set up a website. He put significant effort into seeking out people who would be interested and in bringing them together. That effort was a huge part of i3’s success. All of the people who got involved initially were complete strangers, so there wasn’t really an in-group and an out-group. The initial members also all had lots of different skill sets and perspectives (as much as a group of white suburban males can). The group debated a lot, but if they all agreed on something, they knew they were on the right track. There were 5 people at the first meeting at the Coffee Beanery in Berkeley in April 2009. By July 2009, there were 9 members, and the group started collecting dues.

By this time, the group was spending a lot of time meeting and discussing how to build a hackerspace and they were not actually making anything as a group. Matt Switlik, a founding member, opened up his garage to the group, so they started to have meetings at Matt's garage. They started with holding a small build session to build bristlebots. It was fun and got everyone to actually build something together. This was the first meeting that Nick Britsky was at. The group found out that Ann Arbor was going to hold a mini maker faire so they decided to do a group build. The group build for the mini maker faire was a giant ridable bristlebot. The group took this to the mini maker faire, representing themselves as i3 Detroit with booklets on how to become a member and information about their grassroots effort.

After the mini maker faire i3 Detroit really wanted a space. Jaime Wolfe, Russ Wolfe’s wife, helped run the financial numbers for a few different spaces and determined what kind of income was needed to survive. The founding members agreed to fund the space with $100 monthly dues. The group had negotiated a space in Royal Oak down to an affordable rate with a growth plan in the rent over time. The group had 13 members when they took possession of the Royal Oak space on Labor Day weekend of 2009.

i3 Detroit spent the next month as a group putting their personally money into bettering the space. They set a goal of holding a grand opening in October. After a long month of working late into the nights with both members and guests (who started stopping by the space and stuck around to help with the build out--Nate Warnick and Rashad Williams really stand out), the grand opening party needed to happen. The group once again raised funds for being able to throw a party and was even able to get a local brewery to donate two kegs for the party.

i3 Detroit had written a personal letter to Jim Ellison, the Mayor of Royal Oak, and invited him to do the ribbon cutting. Metro Times had posted the grand opening party event and the group was finally ready to share what they had been working on. The space had 17 members by party day. A lot of people showed up throughout the day including the Mayor, who stylishly cut the ribbon with an oxy-acetylene welding torch. The party went late into the evening and even though the members were all tired, it felt great to feel successful at what they accomplished. The space looked great, with local art hung on the walls throughout the space. , .

Along the way, i3 Detroit had reached out to other hackerspaces like Pumping Station One and they started to build a really good relationship and share ideas of what worked and what did not. The founding members of Pumping Station One and i3 soon became good friends. The PS:One members would come out to i3 to spend time and the i3 members would drive out to Chicago. This is how PS:One really became i3 Detroit’s sister space.

The i3 members spread the word, went to local events to hand out flyers and even got i3 involved in other group’s events. Nick Britsky and Russ Wolfe spent a lot time reaching out to other organizations, going to meetings, building relationships with Make, Handmade Detroit, etc... The founding members were really good at talking about i3 and spreading the word. They all seemed to live and breathe i3 at this point.

There were struggles as well, such as trying to determine what the right price point for membership was to grow the organization and not seem like a closed off group. When the group had to leave Royal Oak and find a new building they also had to raise the funds. The group used word of mouth and Kickstarter with the “help save the robots” campaign. It worked and the group was able to secure its current location in Ferndale. i3 Detroit prided itself on holding community events and classes, which, in turn, helped to build the organization.

On March 31st, 2010, i3Detroit migrated to its new home in Ferndale, MI. More than 6,000 square feet larger than the previous space, the new location had over 1,000 square feet of office space and roughly 7,000 square feet of warehouse floor. The move was very hastily done, nothing was organized and the space was functionally paralyzed for a few months. This, coupled with a mold issue in the office areas which had to be renovated by members, required determination and commitment from members to bring the space to functionality. Amid the sound of saws and compressors, the new space and i3Detroit's first birthday were both celebrated with a barbeque on April 25th, 2010.

Present Day

Currently, i3 Detroit hovers around 70-80 dues-paying members and a handful of regular guests, with several people in the space on any given night of the week. Recurring events and occasional classes dot the calendar, and we usually make a strong showing at local DIY-oriented events. This is nowhere more true than Maker Faire Detroit, where so many projects come from i3 that we get our own large tent.