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Generator Members Annual Meeting Minutes September 10th, 2018
Meeting Facilitator: Jake Blend
In attendance: Jake Blend, Jon Weisbecker, Steve Mermelstein, Karen Freeman, Daryl Stultz, Brook Martenis, Cooper Feiner-Homer, Beth Robinson, Chris Thompson, Melissa Seib, AJ Rossman, Jean Cherouny, Matthew Flego, Linda Beal, Thomas Waters, Alex Hahl, Ethan Goldman, Pete Moore, Elliott Katz, Jon Landell, Alex Costantino, Ken Howell
Welcome: Jake Blend welcomed the attendees and called the Generator members annual meeting to order at 6:05 pm.
Directors Report: Chris Thompson noted that he officially finished his first year as ED and was greeted with a resounding round of applause. He gave a report looking back at the past year and forecasting ahead, with a slide presentation to accompany his remarks.
Chris began by reviewing highlights from 2017-2018 which included:
1) Launching 3 new programs – JumpStart, Reckless Ideas and the Somali Sewing Circle, involving close to 650 participants. The new programs helped the Generator be more “outward looking” and forged new partnerships with LaunchVT, UVM and CVOEO. It was also noted that more than 1,000 people came through the Generator for Art Hop this year.
2) Professionalizing fundraising – Beth Robinson’s position was revised to enable her to focus more on development work and the organization has chosen a donor tracking database (Little Green Light) to enhance ongoing donor management.
3) Return to profitability – With the addition of long format classes organized by Sarah Sprague, classes are full and revenue is up. Also, the number of individual dues paying members increased 25% from 80 to 100 since the beginning of 2018 and corporate underwriting of programs has risen ($60K raised for Spark alone). The Generator is finishing 2018 in a good financial position and has more than $150,000 in the bank, with 6 months reserves a healthy financial metric.
4) Challenges – Chris noted how surprisingly disruptive 1 to 2 people can be out of 400+ members and said the result has been that the organization has become more structured and tightened up operations. He also mentioned that the increase in new programming has stretched the staff very thin and burnout is a concern that he worries about.
Looking ahead to 2018-2019:
1) Five new programs are coming on-line: DesignLab, Spark, AR/VR incubator, JumpStart Collegiate and the Business of Art programs.
2) Professional and appropriate staffing – Elliot Katz came on board as the Director of Operations. Jon Weisbecker, who started as an AmeriCorps member, is the new Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator and taking on volunteer management responsibilities from Beth so she can focus more on Development. A goal is to increase the hours of existing staff so the organization has more staff working full-time. Chris sadly noted that Annika Rundberg will be leaving her part-time communications role at the Generator for full-time employment elsewhere.
3) New 3,000 square-foot flex space – The Champlain College makerspace will merge with the Generator. A new flex space will be created and open October 1st in the vacant adjacent area. To be shared between Generator and Champlain College, the space will include a permanent location for the AR/VR Lab, computers for the Champlain students and a much larger event space. All Champlain students will have free Generator memberships.
4) Professional card access system – As part of the flexspace fit-up, Champlain College will cover half of the $13,000 cost of a professional access card system, the lack of which has been a big operational issue the past year. The new system will increase overall security, including adding card access to the wood and metal shops. All members will get new picture ID access cards.
5) Merger of Champlain maker lab with the Generator – Chris is working out the final details with the college. The merger will bring new equipment to the Generator including a resin 3D printer and 2nd laser cutter and nine new lab techs to support members. The presence of the students will bring more energy during the quiet daytime hours and help create a more welcoming space. The merger also provides the opportunity for members to have a task done by a tech on a piece of equipment that the member was not certified. Other elements discussed included making sure the student techs get the certification training and the potential for equipment scheduling issues, particularly the heavily used laser cutter, with the influx of students. Ken pointed out that the college will be bringing a laser cutter to the Generator as part of the merger and they will be mostly using the equipment during the day hours, so he doesn’t anticipate this will be a problem. It was noted that there will be times where the student techs will be less available around vacations and exams, but over the summer the Generator will hire other tech capacity. Chris was asked if there will be any changes to the Generator’s operating hours. He noted that while studio members have expanded access that the general practice is for the Generator to be closed during the middle of the night. Safety is a concern and studio members that need to be there after midnight should let staff know. He mentioned the possibility for some flexibility in the future for different kinds of expanded access, with the parameters and costs of that not yet figured out.
6) Financial plan for sustainability – Overall, the Generator is a financially successful makerspace. A major strategy for reaching financial sustainability is increasing the amount of earned income, with less reliance on grants and philanthropy. In 2017 earned income was 30%, the target for 2020 is 60%. The organization is on track with FY 18 ending at 37% earned income and the FY 19 budget increasing that number to 48%. For FY18 the actuals were $605,600 in income and $435,257 in expenses. The FY19 budget has $589,085 for income (a purposefully conservative number) and $573,545 for expenses with a majority of added expenses budgeted to pay for added staff and increased hours.
2018-2019 Operations plan: Elliot Katz stated that he had been on staff 3 months, and received a hearty round of applause. He sees his role as helping members succeed and has focused on safety and operational improvements. Getting the metal and wood shops more organized, with the tools in user-ready condition, has been a priority since he arrived. An outside hot shop/foundry is envisioned for next summer. Elliott wants to hear from members what they need and want, and welcomes direct and ongoing feedback. A number of meeting attendees wanted to see a vertical metal cutter added to the metal shop. An overhaul of the woodshop dust collection system was mentioned. Elliott agreed that it does not always operate optimally, but noted lack of proper maintenance is as much of a factor as the equipment. He will have an analysis done of the motor to make sure it is adequately performing, but also wants to codify the best practices and make sure the volunteers are trained about so the system can be properly maintained.
Mixed Reality Lab: Jake reported that the AR/VR Lab launched at the Art Hop with a well-received kayaking simulation. Jake shared the “Squid Hitcher” device, a low tech-high tech user interface component of the kayaking activity that helps people get comfortable with using VR technology. The permanent setup in the new flex space will be a huge improvement for the reality lab. He thanked Brook Martenis, Pete Moore and Rachel Hooper for their roles in helping make the lab happen.
Design Lab & Spark Programs: Chris mentioned Rachel Hooper’s and Jon Weisbecker’s roles in developing these two very ambitious education and outreach programs. DesignLab was launched this summer with 200 teen participants engaged to date and a target goal for the year of 600 student interactions. This STEM/entrepreneurship program connects 7th-12th grade youth with Generator member mentors, provides weekly project-based workshops and is a collaboration with area nonprofit organizations and schools.
Spark, a STEM program for high school girls, will team small groups of young women with mentors working on products and systems that can have a social impact. Pitch between the teams will occur twice a year with implementation funding awarded to the winners.
Election of Board Representatives: Jake explained that there are three member representatives to the Generator Board that are elected at the annual members meeting. This past year the member reps were Jake, Jean Cherouny and Ben Colbourn. Ben is not seeking reelection. There are three members that have been nominated and are on the ballot for this year’s election: Jake Blend, Jean Cherouny and Steve Mermelstein. Following discussion on forgoing the paper ballot in favor of a show of hands, Jake made a motion, seconded by Daryl to approve the three names on the ballot. The motion carried unanimously.
Adjourn Motion to adjourn approved, and the meeting adjourned at 7:35.