A life-long tinkerer, designer and mechanical engineer, Stephen Morris had worked at the pinnacle of the international yacht racing world for many years, including a stint on the design team of Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s entry in the America’s Cup. He then spent 10 years helping the U.S. Navy deliver ships to the fleet, until he made a decision to step away.
“It was time for me to get back to making tangible things again,” he said.
After searching for a place to learn welding and work on creative projects near his home in Silver Spring, Md., he found that viable options were too far away geographically. So he had a light-bulb moment and decided to develop and start a so-called makerspace, a local community workshop for tinkerers in the Maryland suburban town.
Figuring out how to turn his idea into reality was trickier, even for someone with 25 years of experience, a master’s degree in aerodynamics and an MBA. Most makerspaces around the United States tend to be volunteer-run, nonprofit organizations, but Morris perceived the need to provide a professionally run organization with top quality machines and easy, welcoming access. He wanted to know whether he should incorporate as a nonprofit, or as a for profit company.
Roger Schwarz, a SCORE mentor who has experience as a program manager in a simulator business, and who owned his own beauty products supply company, advised that any business model requires an infusion of start-up capital. For-profit companies usually rely on the bulk of their initial financing from the founder, friends and family. Nonprofits usually launch with money from donations, grants or even loans.