Re: Independent Teams?
5511 is a community team quickly approaching 30 students. I would say we are a fairly successful team especially being so young. Over the years we have worked in a garage, an old office space, and 3 different spots in local malls. We finally have space in a mall (3300 sqft!) and sign a lease with the owner to rent it out. It's a bit more difficult financially as the funds must come out of the team's pocket, but having a lease is definitely worth the investment.
Community teams are constantly threatened by lack of funds, space, and mentors (I would argue similar situation for school teams, too). Depending on the size of your team in your first year, starting in a garage might in fact be your best bet. You might be disheartened to hear that failure to raise enough money might result in being forced to raise the student-family dues at the kickoff of your season just to pay for space.
I would suggest looking in your area (seriously, start looking now!) for potential sponsors who would give you a bit of their building to work out of for build season. It is likely that this space won't be large enough for driver practice, but you would be surprised about how little space you need to build a robot with just a bandsaw and drill press.
My suggestion is to get a space that you can guarantee for a year. Despite the cost, the security in knowing you have a 24-7 (or equivalent) build space for an entire year is certainly worth it.
Mentors are a different story. I would start looking at FIRST grants and corporate grants that require a connected employee. We have pulled mentors from local companies and now John Deere and TE. Often times mentors from a certain company are required to be eligible for their grant. A cheap/dirty way of getting mentors is by finding a high-traffic Facebook page for your area and asking if anyone works at a company that is offering grants. The general idea is to extend your reach as much as possible and to network your way to industry professionals willing to give a bit of their time.
However, you do not necessarily need technical mentors to build a fantastic robot and to learn a lot from the program. We are a student led team and all of our FRC and robot design knowledge has come from the hard work of the students over the years. If you can get some students inspired without permanent technical mentors, then you can still be very successful. Now whether or not these students know how to use the tools/execute said robot is probably dependent on a good technical mentor. At the very least, bring a handy parent that does woodworking in to teach the kids the ropes in the beginning.
Don't be afraid to ask more questions!
Oh, I forgot to add, register a parent booster association with Parent Booster USA for a really quick 501c3 status!