Indie Lab pt. 4 (Miscellaneous Finance)
(To see pt. 3 click here)
The following are a number of in-progress ideas for figuring revenue and expense streams for Indie Lab. We’ve been working on identifying different ways of expanding these streams and scaling up the nonprofit.
For the first year there are five identified fund-raising options for the organization, with additional possible revenue streams being researched. The main categories that fund Indie Lab are: Membership fees, workshops, sales, and donations or grants. Each is discussed in kind below, with references to percent of operating capital.
In order for the organization to lead the field with its model, the fees for membership are intended to be lower than the industry standard. Surveying other open-science laboratories, fees range between $60 to $350 per month which is exceedingly high for the average citizen-scientist. Our solution to high fees is to offer a tiered membership structure that charges based upon material needs and experience.
Workshops- like those that Indie Lab currently hosts- are a consistent funding opportunity that provide the community with the opportunity to learn about basic as well as state-of-the-art scientific topics. Past events have consistently resulted in earnings between $200.00 — $500.00 per event, depending upon price structure and scope of the project. Expanding these events from one-off fund-raisers to regular programming will both increase the rate of return for the events as well as improve the visibility of the organization. In addition, the lab will begin offering 50/50 profit share events. The format of the latter is to allow members of Indie Lab the opportunity to create and advertise events through the organization, then keep 50% of the net proceeds. Eventually the organization will host at least an equal number of internally and member organized events per month, ideally with the number of member organized events exceeding the internally.
A small part of the laboratory’s plan to raise funds comes from selling merchandise with Indie Lab branding. Selling merchandise offers the lab a means for the lab to promote this mission by generally being more visible within the community. Selling t-shirts, coffee mugs, or stickers puts the organization’s name in the general public's view. Sales of Indie Lab merchandise will be done both on-site at the laboratory, as well as through an on-line, website-based store.
Donations and Grants
The final area for generating revenue is through donations to the laboratory. As Indie Lab is a 501(c)(3) organization, tax-deductible donations can be made through a variety of channels. Our organization is emphasizing donations from two sources: on-line and local crowd-sourcing campaigns; and donations through the Indie Lab website. Given Indie Lab’s unique position in providing both educational tools as well as lab space to the community there are multiple ways that the organization can create crowd-sourcing campaigns that fund the lab’s operations and material needs.
Other possible funding include state and federal grants, or receiving sponsorship from private foundations. For full-scale operations, an initial investment is necessary through this channel to acquire much of the equipment needed for the laboratory and buffer the lab while it begins. Once financially solvent, however, the organization hopes to support its operations solely through the aforementioned funding options. Grants will serve only to acquire new equipment that is outside financial reach at a given point in time.
Research projects require materials such as chemicals, sample containers, gases, and reagents. This portion of the budget allows for the lab to support a portion of the research implements necessary for member researchers to perform work within the lab. The cost of these is highly dependent upon the type of project being done and varies by field of study. The budgeted amount allows for the lab to provide almost $900.00 of supplies for projects per month. Other labs surveyed have a budget of $15,000 per year in allowance for disposable supplies. Our disposables budget will scale up with demand
The most costly- but important- portion of the Indie Lab budget is having research implements available for researchers to perform experiments. Necessary equipment falls into 3 main categories: data collection, research support, and safety. Of these categories, research support and safety are considered the bare minimum essentials to the organization. With the essential categories funded, research projects within the lab can occur on a regular basis; however, doing the characterization work of the research products is severely limited. Funding of the data collection category ensures that fully functional, well-rounded projects can occur that have data to report.
Between the equipment categories, the majority of the needed funds go toward acquisition of data collection tools. Generally speaking, instruments for collecting data are far more technical than the basic support and safety categories. The technical nature results in a higher cost per instrument, thus buying fewer data collection tools than support and safety tools still makes data collection the highest dollar value purchase for equipment. Finally, having resources to update or repair equipment adds an additionally estimated cost.
Indie Lab is currently examining its options for a location to fit within the provided budget. Supporting this facility and the research within has 3 cost categories: utilities, maintenance, and rent. Rolled into the utilities categories are all basic energy, networking, water, insurance, and other such costs. Maintenance covers the costs of renovating the initial facility. Rent goes toward securing a facility with at least 1500 sq ft, with an estimated cost of $1.00/sq ft. Toward the latter category, prices are observed to be between $975/mo for 3000 sq ft, to facilities with costs as great as $3.00/sq ft. Securing a location which matches the first of these options is considered ideal.
Indie Lab intends to maintain the industrial standard for non-profits by keeping labor costs below 25% of the annual operating budget. Disparities between income and cost projections are intended to be resolved by revising labor costs through the 2015 fiscal year. The lab intends to have 2 full-time employees at the start of operations: a director and a technical officer.
Indie Lab intends to launch specific projects that help foster the mission of expanding science access. The lab aims to expand its technological infrastructure to support cutting edge research projects, develop education tools to integrate members, create business-ready certification programs, and is considering the prospects of making Indie Lab a franchising model.
The initial proposal for technology at Indie Lab creates a working environment that allows for many topics to be researched. There are still additional capabilities necessary however to create a research center that mirrors the capabilities of modern academic research settings. After the first year, it is the goal of the lab to purchase almost $100,000 worth of additional research tools. Having these added capabilities will attract a greater number of members to the laboratory, improve project outputs, increase the number of possible projects within the center, and widen the scope of scientific areas that can be researched.
A potentially limiting factor in success of independent laboratories like Indie Lab are the skill sets necessary to participate and understand the work being completed therein. In order to better integrate novice researchers into research projects, the organization plans to develop a set of on-line research training tools. These training tools are planned for development for every research tool that the laboratory possesses and will possess, and be required for users to begin using the equipment. The aspects of these tools will include:
- Training platforms covering basic laboratory safety and safety equipment
- System for rapid creation and implementation of education modules
- Trainings that require both hands-on as well as web-based implements, without the need for a local expert trainer (though required for final certification)
- Leveled system for training based upon immediate vs. intermediate and expert level usage
- Certification program for demonstrated proficiency on lab equipment
- User feedback system for constant improvement of modules
A challenge both to businesses as well as job applications exists in the skills training necessary for employment. There is a constant demand for individuals trained in specific laboratory methods, yet there are very few opportunities for job seekers to have training experience outside of academic laboratories or industrial positions. As an answer to this Indie Lab aims to develop a certification program for technologies that are of especially high industrial relevance. Examples of the technologies are HPLC and Mass Spectrometry, which are widely used in scientific research. Having this resource available in the Richmond area will improve job access and attract more scientific business to the region.
Though the initial aim of Indie Lab is to have a facility in Richmond, VA; the long-term goal is development of a toolkit to enable the organization to expand to other geographical regions. Independent laboratories structured as non-profits provide a value to nearly every community: from agricultural settings concerned with soil or product quality, to advanced research into atomic physics. Additionally, the centers enable innovation to exist in areas where it otherwise would not happen (or happen as rapidly). Enabling innovation strengthens local economies as as new products and services become available. Creating the framework where these opportunities exist in a single location allows for further expansion.