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  #16   Spotlight this post!  
Unread 08-07-2017, 08:35 AM
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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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Unread 08-07-2017, 09:53 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?
Yep. I'm going to pull from my experience as a mentor for 3928, which started as a school affiliated team, got dropped by the high school, and became a community team via 4H.

Quote:
Second, what limitations do you face that might not be apparent? And how do you deal with them?
Many of the limitations were alleviated somewhat due to our 4H designation, which is why I highly recommend going that route. The big things that 4H covered were being a 501c3 non-profit to receive donations and liability insurance. I'm sure there were other perks, but I remember those two the most.

The other thing that is hard about not being school affiliated is getting students excused from school for robotics. Every school is different, but some schools penalize for excessive absences (excused or not), and teachers are probably less likely to be forgiving about makeup homework and tests if you're missing for something that is not school sanctioned. Going to multiple events and progressing to higher levels of play exacerbates the problem.

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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?
Do you have a college nearby? Engineering firms? Fabrication shops? These are all great places to start. Don't underestimate the power of the local FRC, FTC, and VEX community, they can point you in the right direction by providing instruction/tips and maybe even mentors. Excited parents are also great, especially if they are willing to learn some new tricks. Find some pre-rookie and/or FRC workshops within driving distance and attend those. While engineering mentors are valuable beyond their degree, you don't need an engineer to build a robot - just a lot enthusiastic people willing to put in the time.
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Unread 08-07-2017, 10:32 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Thank you everyone for all the responses!
So among all the posts, the two common "themes" I see seem to be 4H association and 501c3 status. That seems like it works well for many teams, so perhaps we'll give that a try.
A couple questions about that though:
Is 4H like a sponsor basically? Would it still be beneficial to establish a non-profit?
Also, I visited my local 4H website, and it seems to be completely agriculture focused (I believe it's even got a partnership with a university's agriculture department?). Just want to confirm that possibly some other people have seen the same thing and still been able to start a 4H FRC team?
And lastly, for uninitiated people like me, where do you go to apply? I see places to join and support them, but not to "create a new organization..."
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Unread 08-07-2017, 10:51 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
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?
Yes. There are teams run through 4H or Boy/Girl Scouts, and some that are completely independent and run by their own 501c3. To run a team, you pretty much have to be affiliated with a non-profit, so you either tack on to a school or other non-profit organization, or create your own.

Quote:
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.
A lot of this is going to be dependent on your exact situation. While my team is affiliated with a school, we had to manage our own build space for our first 7 years. The first year was a parent's garage, and after that we got into a building downtown that had some extra space and an engineering co-op that was sponsoring us. After 3 years managing things ourselves there (paying well below market rates for whatever room happened to be empty at the time), the school stepped in a signed a lease for a space in that building for us. It wasn't until our 8th year as a team when we finally got into the school itself, with the creation of a new STEM Center at the school, complete with a shop for our use.

As for funding, you're in the same boat as everyone else. You need to have or be affiliated with a 501c3 non-profit organization. That lets companies that donate to you get the tax benefit from that donation, and as a practical matter you need some sort of legal entity for the team to be associated with. Once you have that, apply for grants, go around and talk with local companies, and work with your local FIRST organization (contact your RD's and Senior Mentors) to help you find funding.

Quote:
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!
Mentors can come from anywhere. Many come from team sponsors (our first year we had 2 teachers involved with the team, everyone else was from the team's primary sponsor). They can be parents and family friends. They can be friends of other mentors. They can be FIRST alumni from the area. Our current mentor makeup is: 1 from the team's primary sponsor, 1 that used to work at the primary sponsor, 2 parents, 1 friend of another mentor, and 5 alumni that have all graduated college and come back to work with the team in technical roles.
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Unread 08-07-2017, 11:01 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
Thank you everyone for all the responses!
So among all the posts, the two common "themes" I see seem to be 4H association and 501c3 status. That seems like it works well for many teams, so perhaps we'll give that a try.
A couple questions about that though:
Is 4H like a sponsor basically? Would it still be beneficial to establish a non-profit?
Also, I visited my local 4H website, and it seems to be completely agriculture focused (I believe it's even got a partnership with a university's agriculture department?). Just want to confirm that possibly some other people have seen the same thing and still been able to start a 4H FRC team?
And lastly, for uninitiated people like me, where do you go to apply? I see places to join and support them, but not to "create a new organization..."
There's a huge intersection between agriculture and robotics, play up that angle. When you look at farming over the past few hundred years, there has been so much automation that's come up. From simple machines that water crops to complex ones that can roll across a field and harvest corn. Because of all of this, a single person can farm a much, much larger plot of land than they used to be able to. Because of all that, The US has gone from having 72% of the working population as farmers in 1820 to 30% in 1920 to under 2% today. And yet we produce more food than ever before. A robotics group in an agricultural population can have a focus on that and help build skills that will enable these kids to be able to repair machines and save farms money.
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Unread 08-07-2017, 11:49 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
Thank you everyone for all the responses!
So among all the posts, the two common "themes" I see seem to be 4H association and 501c3 status. That seems like it works well for many teams, so perhaps we'll give that a try.
A couple questions about that though:
Is 4H like a sponsor basically? Would it still be beneficial to establish a non-profit?
Also, I visited my local 4H website, and it seems to be completely agriculture focused (I believe it's even got a partnership with a university's agriculture department?). Just want to confirm that possibly some other people have seen the same thing and still been able to start a 4H FRC team?
And lastly, for uninitiated people like me, where do you go to apply? I see places to join and support them, but not to "create a new organization..."
As a 4-H team and a 501c3,

Agriculture and robotics have a huge overlap, and 4-H sees that. There are dozens of 4-H FRC teams around the US at least so you shouldn't have a problem starting one.

I would say being a 4-H's behavior towards it's teams is a middle ground between how a school and its team interacts and how a team acts when it's independent. We're much more independent and autonomous than most school teams, but 4-H does have guidelines, rules, and codes of conduct anyone affiliated with 4-H is expected to follow. Some of this includes 4-H handled background checks for adult mentors and certain minor dress code rules.

Being a 501c3 on top of being a 4-H club is definitely doable and I encourage you to do it. We do it and it has helped us get many more sponsors and grants, as many require you to be a 501c3 to even apply.

Starting 4-H clubs/teams is usually slightly different for each region. How we typically handle things is just sending them emails asking questions, so contact your local branch's director/head of something and ask how you'd start a FRC team as a 4-H club.

Feel free to shoot me any more 4-H related questions as we were the first 4-H FRC team in Florida, have been a 4-H club since 2007, and are the creators of the FIRST 4-H Project Books that are in the approval process for state/country useage
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Last edited by Oromus : 08-07-2017 at 11:54 AM.
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Unread 08-07-2017, 01:24 PM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
So among all the posts, the two common "themes" I see seem to be 4H association and 501c3 status. That seems like it works well for many teams, so perhaps we'll give that a try.
We are also a community team. We started out based inside 1 of the 2 high schools in the district. in 2011 we lost our space and had to move out. Other than space the school had not provided any monetary support to our team. We were/are still 100% funded through, grants, sponsors, in-kind donations, and other fundraisers. We rent a store front in an old mall that is nearly empty. Having your own space provides all the advantages/disadvantages as have already been stated by others.

For us, we still have a connection to the school system, we are allowed to hold meetings there, which we host 2 Fall Orientations for prospective students. We are also able to recruit from within the school. The Majority of our members still come from the original school district, but we are starting to get more members from other districts.

For our Funding, instead of partnering with 4-H or starting our own 501c3, we partnered with our Community Foundation that serves both Townships where the school district resides. They handle all the donation paperwork, tax's, cutting checks, etc. They do charge a nominal administrative fee which is nothing compared to not having to worry about filing taxes, handling audits, providing donations letters, etc.

I to can provide any other additional info, just send me a PM.
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Unread 08-07-2017, 01:35 PM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
So among all the posts, the two common "themes" I see seem to be 4H association and 501c3 status. That seems like it works well for many teams, so perhaps we'll give that a try.
I would say that it is significantly more important to get 501c3 status than to associate with 4H. 4468 is a community team, and while we are technically based out of a county run science center where our head mentor teachers, we do not do all that much with them. We are a unique team in that we work out of a building in downtown Atlanta owned by Dr. Lonnie Johnson (who invented the super soaker and is a huge supporter of FIRST) with 5 other FRC teams, and he actually lets us all use the space for free. For funding, we rely heavily on team fundraisers (many that double as outreach) and grants. It is significantly easier to get funding when you are a 501c3, and many grants actually require that you are a 501c3 to receive the funding at all. Feel free to DM me if you have any additional questions!
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Unread 08-07-2017, 01:55 PM
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Re: Independent Teams?

The rookie team we're starting this year just went through this process. We are a community team, but attached to a Makerspace. We did get our own 501c3, which took 2-3 months. We had to create a corp first and then apply for 501c3 status. Total cost was about $600. Working with a makerspace allows us to have space, plus the makerspace outreach pairs well with FRC. Additionally, a lot of the makerspace members can be an source for mentors. We will have 4 mentors from the makerspace. For example, I posted on the makerspace channel that the team was looking for a Mechanical Engineer, the next day one volunteered.

The biggest issue we realized is sustainability of a community team is harder without a school backing. So our business plan was written from a startup mode point of view. We laid out goals we felt we needed to address to make sure the team would survive. It covered, sponsorship goals, recruitment goals, tooling, build space, training, etc. Each section would take up to 3 years to complete. For example, maintain a team of at least 25 for two consecutive years. We don't expect to get to 25 this year, but year 2 & 3 we should. In each area, we identify risks, and we layout possible remediation actions we can take to correct issue.

PM if you need anything.

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Unread 08-08-2017, 06:44 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

I happen to have quite a bit of experience on this topic; 25 days from today marks the first anniversary of the incorporation of my team (299), and I happen to have presided over the organization as we moved through the process.

I'll presume you're starting independently from any other organization (other than FIRST or on a purely cooperative leve), as working with another group will completely change how this process works out.

We originally started as a splinter group from another local high-school team, and as such our technical needs were very small, primarily in the fabrication side of things really -- most of the work was administrative, which seems to be what you're asking about. I've seen a lot of mentions of 4-H and Makerspaces and other wonderful things like that in this thread, but I cannot stress enough how important it is that you get one thing above all others -- a 501(c)3 verified corporation. This allows donors to mark donations off on their taxes, which is a requirement for almost any grant you'll ever have a chance of getting outside of FIRST's official few. It also exempts you from taxes, though you still have to file forms and fun stuff like that.
Incorporating itself can seem a big frightening at first, but in all honesty it's really just a few forms and some small payments. We managed our entire process for a bit under 700$ in value, and I'm sure you could do it for less if needed, maybe down to 500$ or so depending on the state. There are tons of guides online for this sort of thing -- when you're working on this level, you're not just an FRC team anymore, you're an actual, functioning non-profit, and the sector is incredibly friendly to new members. Here's the guide we used. Make sure to file all the necessary forms -- you'll need to, at some point, file Articles of Incorporation on State and Federal Levels, an SI-100, 990-N or equivalent, and meeting notes for an incorporating meeting of the Board of Directors. You'll, at a certain point, be issued an EIN -- important thing you might miss with this is that it's basically the same thing as your company's Social Security Number! You'll have to give it out for almost anything you do, as other companies use it to verify your company's identity, but if you just give it out to people at random, they can use it as a component for corporate identity fraud -- which is very much not fun.

The trickiest part of the incorporation tends not to be the paperwork, which, again, is really just filling out a few slips and sending them in with checks, but determining the legal structure. If you're creating your organization as an independent group, someone will be in charge: the CEO. While you can get all fancy with your titles, most states only require 3 -- a chief executive, a treasurer, and a secretary, all of which can be different or the same people; in our case, I registered personally as both the CEO and the Treasurer, while a "VP" registered as secretary. Take these roles seriously -- if you have liability issues, these people are the ones who get to talk with law enforcement and are legally responsible for anything illegal that goes on. I'd highly suggest finding someone you deeply trust, who is deeply dedicated to the team, and is above 18 -- otherwise they won't be able to sign most contracts. In our case, I satisfied all of these roles -- I still maintain this position, though the relation between our non-profit (the Valkyrie Association) and the team (Valkyrie Robotics) has grown slightly more complicated. Similarly, you'll need to staff a Board of Directors. In my case, no other mentors wanted to join up, so I'm the sole member; however, in general, I'd suggest either three or five people on the Board, the exact composition defined in your Articles of Incorporation and the meeting notes for your first BoD meeting. A super important thing to understand is that Non-Profits -- except in like three states -- cannot issue stock, and thus have no owners! Rather, they have 'stakeholders' -- individuals who work with the organization and have a say in how things are run. In the end, this means that the Board of Directors has complete control over the company and can do whatever they want with it -- within the bounds of the law and fiduciary responsibility, of course.

Then, you get to insurance. When you're with a school, they pay for your insurance -- this mainly takes the form of liability insurance, which just about every group will require before allowing you to rent space. This is honestly really simple to get; we just called up a few brokers, compared numbers, and went with what sounded best. We couldn't be happier with the Non-Profits Insurance Alliance; they set up a comfortable payment plan and have been very generous the few times we ran overdue. The total dues are about 1500 a year, covering Liability Insurance -- in case most anything goes wrong -- Non-Owned Vehicle Insurance -- giving us extra cushion in the case of a car accident while on the road to a regional -- and one that more or less covers us in case a mentor is charge with improper conduct with students. I'd encourage you to talk around and figure out what package you might need; don't let the brokers scare you with the wide array of failure scenarios, it's their job to do just that.

I almost forgot to mention -- you'll want to create a corporate bank account. This is really super easy; literally walk into a local bank chain with your EIN, a government issued form of ID, and some other form of ID (credit card, another government issued form, more or less anything semi-official besides a Student ID [depending on location]). They'll set you up with a single account and you can just transfer in and out as needed. I'd suggest getting an ATM card and a checkbook; this will more or less cover everything you need there. You won't have a credit card or line of credit unless you work towards that specifically, and I wouldn't suggest it at first. It also helps to set up stuff like a Paypal for easy online donations and stuff like that.

Quick note -- if you want to do matching for donations, which I highly suggest, you should probably PM me about that, since it can be a significant task in its own right. The most basic thing, at least in our case, was to set up a Benevity account -- many corporations do their matching through them and it's brought us many thousands of dollars in matching as a result.

Finally (I think) : space. This one has always been the most difficult, but it really depends on where you live. We're stuck in the middle of San Jose, with more robotics teams in our school district than schools -- it can't get much worse than this, really. To rent a small (600 sq. ft.) space could cost upwards of 30k a year, which is really beyond our budget -- as such, you'll want to improvise. For our first year, we worked out of three locations for build: my garage, a friend's garage, and a friend's condo's community center. To emphasize, my friend's garage was 20 minutes up a nearby mountain -- but we still got people to come, once we arranged carpools and food. For larger events, we used a local (Quinlan) community center; their cheap rates and wide variety of rooms were amazing, and we still use them for major events. Unfortunately, for our kickoff, we managed to screw up booking with them, and ended up having to shell out 1000$ extra dollars to get our new booking with a private location; while a community center will usually give massive discounts to local non-profits, hotels certainly will not. You may have noticed at this point that I've started referring to these situations in the past-tense: as of now, we've managed to secure (for at least another year or two) a 800-sq-ft location in a local semi-dead shopping plaza, per courtesy of our wonderful sponsors KT Urban and Stonebrook Properties. 800 sq. ft. is certainly enough to run a season on -- we managed to fit a 6x6 CNC router into that place, and still had barely enough room to push everything aside and do drive practice when we needed. We got this place more or less by driving down main street and calling up every number we found -- it took uncountable failures, but finally we found a location with a connection, and two months later we'd moved in. It may take some time, but it's definitely worth the effort.

The biggest thing to remember is that, once you have your 501(c)3 EIN, you are a Non-Profit -- so act like it! Call up businesses, beg for sponsorship, ask for discounts, talk about your mission statement, whatever you think will help -- this isn't just an FRC thing, it's basic non-profit sector SOP.

If you have any questions, feel free to PM or ask otherwise -- we've been through the process and would love to see some other teams do the same.
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Unread 08-08-2017, 08:28 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by backflippingcat View Post
Thank you everyone for all the responses!
So among all the posts, the two common "themes" I see seem to be 4H association and 501c3 status. That seems like it works well for many teams, so perhaps we'll give that a try.
A couple questions about that though:
Is 4H like a sponsor basically? Would it still be beneficial to establish a non-profit?
From another 4-H team, the state 4-H Foundation does provide some grants to support teams but it is not enough to fully fund an FRC team. We have received between $1000 and $2000 per year. You need to go after more grants and do independent fundraising but being part of 4-H, you will have that status to receive those additional funds.

Best advice I can give, call the nearest 4-H office and talk to a live person about what you want to do and they will help you.

Good Luck.
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Unread 08-08-2017, 11:38 AM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Something the other 4H folks aren't mentioning is that donations to 4H Clubs are tax deductible, like donations to 501(C)3 organizations.

Congress set that up for 4H long ago. It's part of the USA law that is separate from the IRS regulations that govern 501(C)3 organizations, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't just as useful to donors.

However... 99% of the time when you approach a potential donor, and you have a choice between educating them and their accountant(s) about the subject, or instead just saying "In addition to being a 4H Club, we are also a 501(C)3 organization.", the 501(C)3 option definitely makes life easier.

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Last edited by gblake : 08-08-2017 at 08:53 PM.
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Unread 08-08-2017, 12:18 PM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Achierius View Post
I happen to have quite a bit of experience on this topic; 25 days from today marks the first anniversary of the incorporation of my team (299), and I happen to have presided over the organization as we moved through the process.

...

If you have any questions, feel free to PM or ask otherwise -- we've been through the process and would love to see some other teams do the same.
I'd like to add that once you're a 501(c)3 organization, you have two angles of attack to ask for product donations or money: 1) You're a high-school robotics organization, and 2) you're a non-profit. As a result, we've found a lot of interest from companies when we apply for grants which aren't FIRST-specific.

The second thing I'd like to clarify some of what Marcus was saying. First, you incorporate and get your EIN and become a company and whatnot. Afterwards, you apply with the IRS to become a non-profit. One of our donors paid for us to have a CPA/lawyer take care of this mostly for us, but the forms aren't that complicated. As a result, you become a non-profit after you become a company. The reason this matters is that some companies (such as Google) attach their product donations to a list of NPO EINs that the IRS updates monthly. You won't be able to get some donations until your EIN appears on this list.

Definitely figure out/PM Marcus about Benevity -- it made up a substantial chunk of our 2017 budget.

EDIT: The IRS updates the list online monthly, and publishes it quarterly, so YMMV in terms of how quickly companies are willing to accept that you're an NPO.

Last edited by M3rcuriel : 08-08-2017 at 12:21 PM. Reason: More Information
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Unread 08-08-2017, 01:22 PM
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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?

Second, what limitations do you face that might not be apparent? And how do you deal with them?

Where do you find technical mentors?
Hi - I think I may be able to help out here as well.

4476 is another community based team! We're from Kingston, ON which has a population. And I'd say we're successful with competition wins and a district EI this past year (I'm super proud of them, can you tell?).

Limitations the team face include that it's sometimes not the easiest to recruit students when there are nearby teams with school affiliation, which is why we focus on it a lot to ensure sustainability. Shop space was another thing, so forming partnerships with our city made it easier as they would allow us to work out of municipal buildings and then parents/mentors allow us to HQ during the summer at their houses. Funding relies a lot on sponsorships and partnerships, but there are some grants as well. Just make sure you're on top of your due dates.

Many of our mentors, self included, come from our local university as engineering and computer science students, which helps provide some of the technical support - the school itself has an FRC alumni chapter too (QFRC), and many of the QFRC members end up mentoring 4476. Other alumni of the team who have gone afar for school studies are involved where they can as well, keeping everyone connected. No, we're not engineers yet, but it also makes it easier to connect with students given a smaller age gap. If there isn't a university you can tap into, look at local engineering firms or ask your team's sponsors to see if anyone is willing to help you out.

PM me if you have any questions, of course - and best of luck for the upcoming season!!!
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Unread 08-10-2017, 04:18 PM
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Re: Independent Teams?

Our team is partially affiliated with our local public school district. We operate out of the high school's mechatronics lab, the majority of our students are from the school, and our mentor is the mechatronics teacher. However, we are a community team in the sense that we have students come from the surrounding small community schools to be part of our team. It is nice to have a mix of students from all across the community.

Fund raising wise we always do a pop can drive after super bowl weekend. This usually nets us between $600-700 which for us can be stretched really far. We have found this is the best fundraising option beyond getting corporate sponsorship.
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