So here’s the situation. A friend of mine has been wanting to start their own FRC team for a while and I figured I would help him out.
But the problem is that I don’t have any experience starting a new team since I joined a pre-existing one.
So here are my 3 main questions
How did you convince your school to start a team?
How to convince a company to sponsor?
How do you find mentors that are willing to help the team?
If you have any more advice it would greatly appreciated.
Edit: I should also mention that my friend lives in place where FIRST isn’t well established so the closest team to him is close to 200 hundred miles away. So getting help from a local team would not be possible.
The biggest thing I found was find a teacher willing to “run” it from the school side first, then approach the school about it. Past that, once you have kids, get them to talk to their parents/family friends about sponsorship from their employers. We have one dad who’s an engineer by trade that does most of the technical mentoring, and allows us to use his garage as a workspace on weekends and it’s fantastic.
My answer to all three: traction. Just like pitching a startup, where an investor needs to see market response (and usually sales), the main thing school administration, sponsors, and mentors will want to see is buy-in from students and each other.
First, find ten students who are eager to commit the time and energy to not only survive build season but also to sustain a team in its foundling years. Assume three quarters don’t really mean it and find another ten. Together, write a report on the interest these students display, the plan they have to create and sustain a team, and the benefit to members and the greater school community. Support it with personal statements, particularly highlighting the learning from any previous FIRST or STEM experiences, and also utilize statistics from FIRST Impact Reports.
Once the student interest is clear, start your next step at the closest connection. Is the principal’s daughter interested in joining? Great, talk to the principal about the creation of a team, contingent on finding external funding and mentors.
If that’s not an available connection, talk to Uncle John at XYZ Tech about the possibility of the company sponsoring or co-workers coaching the team.
While you’ll of course need commitments in all these areas before you can truly move ahead, it’s too overwhelming to pursue all at once. Again, start with the easiest or closest aspect, than use that as bargaining power for the rest.
Finally, as much as you and I love FRC, remember it may not be right for everyone. FTC, Vex, and other programs can be more cost effective and easier to run. Think long and hard before you take the plunge, particularly with the state of the world.
My advice for starting a team would be to first try and recruit as many people as you can, teachers, students, and the parents of interested students.
Also try to contact teams in your area and see if one of them can mentor you. 4159 mentored 5700 (my team) when we started, and were (and still are) incredibly helpful and generous.
After that, try and raise funds by contacting nearby companies. I’d say try to raise at least $20,000 for FRC, but you can get by with less. If you can’t raise enough funds for FRC, consider starting a FTC team (you only need $2,000-$3,000 per year), and plan to move to FRC after year or two when you have more money and an established build space. Another reason to consider FTC is that FRC may not have a season due to COVID, but FTC has remote events.
The last thing you have to do is try to find a secure build space. Hopefully your school will have room for the robotics team, but if not, you can see if malls or other businesses can donate space, or if a parent has a garage you can work out of. You may also be able to work out of a shipping container on campus (but be careful of security).
I very, very, VERY strongly recommend that you and your friend postpone joining until the end of the pandemic. Existing teams with many years of foundational work and support cannot keep their teams going right now. It is not a good year to be rookies.
And even if there is some reason to make things happen this year, I’d give very strong thought to FIRST Tech Challenge. Far lower budget (single-digit percentages of a good FRC regional team’s budget), remote events in most areas eliminates the field trips question, and you’re already going to have a lot of obsolete stuff piles over time with FRC so one FTC robot’s worth of production won’t even more the needle.
I wasn’t around for the start of my team, but from what I know, there was a teacher that was into it and convinced the school administration. If you need to make an argument, just remember to bring up the benefits of inspiring students to follow STEM and Business careers and learn those employable skills, which is something that I always brought up to sponsors.
Speaking of sponsors, our team emails local companies to set up meetings with people at the company to discuss sponsorship. We always bring up the benefits of having a FIRST team for them: future workforce, help spread their name at competitions, whatever else you can think of
Many of our mentors come from our sponsors, so be sure to ask about that at sponsorship meetings.
Other advice: Be willing to accept that you may not field a robot this year, and not necessarily due to COVID. This program is expensive, so be frugal and start small (use an everybot most likely). Try not to make your students fund the team, by keeping dues low (you can get more students and it will make your budget revolve around your sponsors, which are most likely a much more reliable source of income than student dues. Finally: REACH OUT TO TEAMS IN YOUR AREA (you don’t have all the answers, and finding established teams in your area will go a long way for finding sponsors and mentors in your area, building a sustainable program, and effectively inspiring students to go in to STEM and Business).
I would form a team early. Start NOW for 2022. Like, form a team now, and start fundraising (if you can) for 2022.
Why, you ask?
Let’s jump back in time about 2 years so we don’t have to worry about COVID, and I’ll run you through the advantages. If we can beat COVID, those advantages are still there.
First off: You get extra time to fundraise, recruit, and build the team.
Second: You may opt to do a cheaper competition your first year. The experience will help a little but not a lot. (Or… you pull a 2753.)
Third: Attend/watch events as a team. Show up, walk the pits, watch the matches, glean experience.
Fourth, and the actual #1 reason: OFFSEASONS. Show me a non-invite* offseason that DOESN’T give PRE-rookies a discount. Show up with either a robot you built on your own time and budget, OR borrow another team’s robot or practice robot–both work. For somewhere around $0 to whatever you opt to spend on a robot of your own, plus travel, you get an approximation of an actual competition event. As a pre-rookie, you’ll get a temporary number.
Even with COVID, you should be able to make something work… just not necessarily FRC in your first year. Second or third year as a group, go for it!
*In other words: not an offseason state championship, and not IRI or Chezy Champs. There’s one or two others that I would lump in that group as well. This particular group of events is qualify, or apply, to get into.
I am one of the lead mentors for Team 8033, a rookie team in 2020. We are based in Northern California. You really need to contact the FRC Regional Director in your area. Our Regional Director was so helpful. She was invaluable! She helped me with grants and mentors. There are many grants available only for rookie teams. Your Regional Director can steer you to the ones in your area. Good luck!
Yeah, so the 2021 or 2022 idea is good. That gives you time to develop a really solid proposal for educators to consume and digest. Doesn’t mean you can’t meet and do things, you’re just not on the hook for thousands of dollars just yet.
“Local” teams can be more than 200 miles away. We have this thing called the Internet now, and remote meetings are easy. Maybe they’ll loan you one of their old robots so you can really take it apart and reassemble it to see exactly how it works.
But, yes, definitely set up a way to start playing Robots, and constantly invite other students to get involved or just watch at least. As said above, 10 is not enough, but start there.
Make sure that when recruiting students, that you have a many at the lower grade levels so they can learn over many years and pass that knowledge on to newer members. I recall seeing some team where at some point in time, most of their members were seniors. The next year, they essentially had to restart as rookies since all the students who knew how to do things had all graduated.