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Unread 08-06-2017, 09:38 AM
backflippingcat backflippingcat is offline
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Independent Teams?

Hello! A while back I posted a thread about getting some advice for a rookie team, and I got a ton of helpful responses, so thank you! I have a more specific question this time though: about independent teams.
First off, are there any successful independent (non-school affiliated) teams? I'm aware that pretty much 99% of teams are school sponsored.
Second, what limitations do you face that might not be apparent? And how do you deal with them? (For example, how did you find a shop space?) For funding I know there's grants but it appears some have closed already for next year.
Finally, mentors. From my knowledge, lots of parents and people that parents know are mentors. We have a couple parents that would love to mentor, but have no technical knowledge whatsoever. Where do you find technical mentors?
I know that was a lot, but thanks in advance Any advice is appreciated!
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Unread 08-06-2017, 10:20 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Oh yea, there are tons, they are called community teams and serve the surrounding area that they are located it. Also there are good amount of teams that serve usually a single school and sometimes multiple that work off of campus through a space that has no affiliation with the school. Usually teams obtain that space through sponsors.
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Unread 08-06-2017, 10:23 AM
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Talking Re: Independent Teams?

Hello,
I recall last time we were talking that you were having trouble with getting your school on board with FRC. The main advantage with school teams is the funding. With school teams, usually, you will get more interested sponsors. The last thing you want is for your team to be in debt at the end of the season. There are some Very Successful teams that have even won World Championships and have gotten to Einstein as an independent team. If you go the independent route you will want to set up a 501c3 account that shows that you are a non-profit. This will help you get the sponsors that would have looked over you because you are not a school. If you need help getting a 501c3 started let us know because we have some tutorials we can share with you and answer any questions you might have about it. You are going to want to find a shop to work out of. A lot of teams start by working out of a team members garages. For your first year, you probably want the basic tools (drill press, a stand up or hand held band saw, hand saw, belt sander or disc sander, a grinder, mechanics set with wrenches and screwdrivers and a chop saw.) Mentors can come from anywhere, we always recommend reaching out to companies. You probably at the least need a mentor or coach to run the marketing and branding side of it, and a mentor to run both electrical and programming as they go hand in hand, and a strong mechanical mentor that is familiar with tools. Let us know if you need anything else.

Thanks,

DM Robotics
FIRST Team #6314
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Unread 08-06-2017, 10:32 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

We (1902) are a non-school team. Instead, we're a 4-H club. It's helpful in some ways, such as letting us accept members from pretty much anywhere rather than being limited to just one school or county. The downside is 4-H doesn't have anything that resembles a build space for a robotics team, and so we fundraise and and rent an independent build space for ourselves. A bit of a neutral point (not really a pro or a con), because we're not a school team we have to pull from friends, community involvement, and FLL graduates to get new members, since we don't have a highschool to just feed into the program. This system has worked well for us for a while and it's definitely a viable option, though it may take a bit more work. 4-H isn't a necessity to do this either, as they aren't really a substitute for a school so much as a completely different type of primary sponsor with different benefits.

In terms of money, we just run fundraisers and apply for grants just like anyone else. It's pretty much the same as being a school team that doesn't get much money from their school.

If you have any more questions let me know, I'll be happy to go into more detail
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Unread 08-06-2017, 10:38 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

For team funding there are several things you can do. For fundraising you could do a carwash, do a bake sale hold a raffle, etc... For us we have done both the car wash and the raffle. The car wash usually gives a fairly substantial amount of money but the raffle is where we make most of the fundraising portion. Each fall we have sponsors that give us a few prizes that we then raffle off. The prizes usually include a Bose sound system from Bose, a flight in a WWII aircraft from collings foundation, and a round of golf at the international. The reason I mentioned the usual prizes is because in order to have a raffle that's really successful it helps a lot to have awesome prizes. I can't count the amount of times I've been met with an eh response when I talk to them about enter a raffle but once they see the prizes they are immediately interested in entering. We are usually able to sell 500 tickets each year despite a ticket being $10. Try to get sponsors to give you some products to raffle off.

The other portion of fundraising is sponsorships. For sponsors yea you can go after major companies but unless you're a real well know teams it's likely that the majority of your funding will come from local sponsors that you contact. It can be hard to find local companies so see if your mentors can contact the companies they work for, mentors usually work for free related companies so it's a good start. Go farther and ask the companies that parents work for also, this can yield sponsors too.

If you contact local companies a thing that helps is too have at least a robot drive base or something else that you can offer to go out and show them, also make a well thought out business plan to present that includes predicted costs and a breakdown of spending. Companies that are already sponsoring other FRC teams will see this great work from a rookie team and will be very impressed by it.

If you wanted another way to get some money would be to have a fee to join the team, that can yield a good portion of money. If you decide to do this have a policy to deal with people who can not afford it since not being able to pay the fee is not a good reason to deny someone from joining the team.
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Unread 08-06-2017, 10:49 AM
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NShep98 NShep98 is offline
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AKA: Nathan Shepherd
FRC #2079 (4H ALARM Robotics)
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Re: Independent Teams?

2079 also is a community based team. Like the above responses, we are affiliated with 4H and started out in a mentor's/member's garage. At some point we moved off into our own rented space in a shared building. All our mentors are either parents in a professional field or passionate individuals with nowhere else to spend their time (or both), and many of our sponsors come through them.

The upsides:
  • We have our own keys to get in, so we can meet pretty much any time we want
  • We can pull students from any surrounding town that doesn't already have a team (plenty)
  • No worrying about canceled school days or administration interferance
  • Students are allowed to use any tools we train them on

The downsides:
  • New student recruitment is harder because you're not right in their school
  • An extra activity apart from the normal school day can lead to unpredictable commitment
  • We have to pay rent on the space we have
  • We have virtually no practice space (depends on location)
  • Potential sponsors may be turned off by non-affiliation with a school

Like most things you'll end up doing here, it's essentially a trade-off situation. It can definitely be done, but you need a different kind of work to do it.
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Unread 08-06-2017, 10:52 AM
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jman4747 jman4747 is offline
Just building robots
AKA: Josh
FRC #4080 (Team Reboot)
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Re: Independent Teams?

What kind of area you are in has a lot to do with what resources are available to you. Not just the city but what part of the city. It will affect travel times for students/mentors, rental costs, utilities, etc.

Are you in a small town (Savana GA), a small city (Atlanta GA), big city (New York), literal middle of nowhere?

Meeting space:



Mentors:

First, broaden your idea of who can be a "technical" mentor. There will need to be some "on the job training" so to speak and your priority is to find dedicated people to help structure and guide the team who also like building things. The technical stuff can be learned as they go.

Second, find locally owned businesses that employ people who do things that you do in the process of building a robot. That can be an IT installer, machine shop, auto repair shop, software dev firm, etc. Approach them individually and talk specifically about your need for space and mentors. Mention money only after they ask about it.

Third, find people in local technical schools and universities.

Meeting space:

The only way you are getting space is to get it donated most likely. You will need to talk to property owners and ideally via someone they already do business with.

If you are given your own space you will need an insurance policy! At the very least whoever you are borrowing space from will need to check theirs before you move in.

Other than that you need internet, security, and electricity. Depending on where you are and what kind of water heater you have you may need natural gas. If you get your own office you have to get the locks changed. We just had to have the AC repaired recently as well. There's a lot so be prepared.

Money...

luck. Also, the businesses that employ your mentors are going to be more likely to help you. As others have mentioned don't underestimate an old school fundraiser. They pay for things and it shows initiative to potential sponsors.


In general having a 501(c)(3) makes things a lot easier but I suspect it is still posable to do without it.

Feel free to ask any questions and PM me if you want more detailed help.
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Unread 08-06-2017, 11:08 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jman4747 View Post
Are you in a small town (Savana GA), a small city (Atlanta GA), big city (New York), literal middle of nowhere?
Population of 150,000 is a small town?! We have different definitions of the word "small!"
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Unread 08-06-2017, 01:01 PM
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jman4747 jman4747 is offline
Just building robots
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cothron Theiss View Post
Population of 150,000 is a small town?! We have different definitions of the word "small!"
*Small City*
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Unread 08-06-2017, 01:32 PM
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Ben Martin Ben Martin is offline
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Re: Independent Teams?

225 is not affiliated with a school. Here are the biggest differences I've seen:

- We need to pay for our own liability insurance
- We need to do our own org management/tax filing/etc
- Build space and tools are either paid for or a donation
- We need a 501c3 for donations
- We don't have to abide by any rules set by another organization other than FIRST (snow days, restrictions on hours, etc).
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Unread 08-06-2017, 04:00 PM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jman4747 View Post
*Small City*
Still I wouldn't call Savanna a "small town". We vacationed there recently!

I spent some of my childhood living in Harlem, GA. Now that's a really small town
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Unread 08-06-2017, 04:41 PM
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WillNess WillNess is offline
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Re: Independent Teams?

Hello,

4944 is a community team made up of 5 local high schools. There are many advantages to this such as freedom from schools and school guidelines/policies.

We gain our meeting space from a local business incubator (Grand Junction Business Incubator). However, this was our fourth year meeting there and our fourth meeting space in the incubator as someone has decided to rent the space we were in and we've been moved to a difference space four summers in a row. The disadvantage of this is if they run out of spaces to put us in because all of their spaces are rented out, we could get kicked out with little notice and have nowhere to go. Although, being in the business incubator is awesome as we get to interact with many different businesses and the incubator has different facilities we can use in addition to our space (meeting spaces). They also send out press releases to our entire area for us for free!

Our team had 5 founding mentors, 1 of whom remain (engineers who had to leave because of their jobs). Many of our mentors are parents that only mentor for the years the kids are on the team. We hope that as we grow alumni will stay and mentor.

The issue with our school district is that we are the 3rd least funded school district out of 178 districts in Colorado. Even if we raised all of our money, the odds that our district would allow our team to exist is very low.
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Unread 08-07-2017, 12:35 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
First off, are there any successful independent (non-school affiliated) teams?
The first team that instantly comes to mind around us is 1501. They are a 4-H club team out of Huntington County, Indiana. They have been very successful the last three years (worlds in 2015, Einstein Captain in 2016, and a blue banner in 2017 (sadly struggled at state due to electrical issues. Still had an amazing bot)). I'm not exactly sure how they operate but, I'm fairly confident that they are near 100% (if not 100%) independent. I'd definitely PM Chris_Elston (I believe head mentor of 1501) for any questions. Not trying to volunteer him but, he's friendly and, I bet he'd be willing to answer questions for you.
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My FRC Recap so far...
2015 Regular Season (w/ 234) 1 District Chairman's (Indianapolis), 2 District Wins (Kokomo: 234, 135, 3865) (Purdue: 234, 1024, 2197),
1 DCMP Win (Indiana: 234, 1024, 292), and 1 Worlds (Archimedes: SF)
Offseason 2 Wins (CORI: 234, 2614, 3266) (CAGE: 234, 868, 2791?), IRI, and IndyRAGE

2016 Regular Season (w/ 234)
1 NC District (Guilford: QF), 2 IN Districts (Warren: QF) (Perry: QF), and 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF)
Offseason IRI, Boiler Bot Battle, CAGE, and IndyRAGE

2017 Regular Season (w/ 234) 2 District Wins (Tippecanoe: 234, 1018, 4926) (Perry: 1501, 234, 2197), 1 DCMP (Indiana: QF), and 1 Half-Worlds (Curie: QF)

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Unread 08-07-2017, 01:18 AM
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jkelleyrtp jkelleyrtp is offline
Let's just build a robot
AKA: Jon Kelley
FRC #5511 (Cortechs Robotics)
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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!
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Unread 08-07-2017, 07:35 AM
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FRC #6325 (Reset Robotics)
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Re: Independent Teams?

We (6325) are not only an independent team. but fully student-run. We have completed our rookie season. We consist of about 10 members. Shop space was an issue but our mentor allowed us to use his basement. It was a long drive for all the team members (At least 40-60 minutes on the way) but we managed a carpool system and we all dedicated about 4 and half hours (3 hour meeting, 1 and half hours for round trip total) for each meeting (which during build season is pretty much every day). My schedule was pretty full. 8-3:30 school. Reach home at 4. Leave at 5 for robotics at come back at home at 9:30. Managing school homework just go with philosophy "Robotics > homework" and you will be fine." My rookie year I was still a freshmen so homework was not that much but this year I'll probably just do it mostly in school (Robotics > homework lol).
As for recruiting, getting people for our first year was hard. I joined because my school did not have a robotics team so I looked for teams near me and reached out with an email. Our recruitment for next year is on going. We opened up online applications at the end of worlds and got 20 applications so far.
For mentors, one of our mentors is a 18 year old who loves and volunteers in FTC/FRC. We all had a common interest of doing FIRST and sharing our love for STEAM. All of team members have no access to FIRST competitions at their schools or they are homeschooled which is why we came together to form our own student-run FRC team. Our second mentor is a very dedicated parent of one of our team members.

Even as a rookie independent fully student-run team we did decently. We got RAS at our first district event and Rookie Inspiration and Highest Rookie Seed and our 2nd district event. We got RAS at state and made it to worlds. We had the 9th highest OPR in Roebling. Overall, I had a great experience and forming your own independent team is a great idea. Good luck!
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