Advices for New Community Team

Former second lead/programming mentor and drive coach of 7108 here. I’ve started involving with FIRST and FRC last year with Team 7108. They were looking for a new mentor outside the school and somehow found me in the university (I was VP of the robotics club in our university.) and we’ve started working together after 2018 season. This year we’ve made an incredible run together by ranking 1 in Istanbul regional, winning the event alongside with a quality award. We’ve ranked 9 in Carver Division and became the 6th alliance captain. We’ve got eliminated to 1678, 7179, 3132 and 1939 in the quarterfinals tiebreaker where we’ve lost 91-90. The whole worlds was an incredible experience for all of our team and we’ve definitely achieved more than we could ever imagine. Meeting with all the wholesome teams and listening to their stories was very enlightening. However as our school is a public school (I am not related to school except the FRC team by the way), we had lots of struggle especially in the administrative works as I am an outsider to school. Also they don’t even want the team to attend FRC as they see local robotics competitions are better. Moreover I remember getting knocked out of the school with the kids together multiple times during build season, because simply they didn’t want us to work after school hours ( How can the kids supposed the build the robot in 6 weeks if they can’t work outside the school hours?) Despite everything, I won’t be giving up that easy after seeing the worlds and meeting all the great people in FRC. I believe we have lots of things to learn and lots of things to give to the community and all the bright high schoolers out there. As a master student in computer science (I specialize in cognitive robotics), I still learn and see incredible things in FRC speaking of technical terms.

As a result, me and my friend who was our mechanical mentor from my university (we worked together with him a lot, god bless him), left the team to form a new independent rookie community team in Istanbul, Turkey with some of the core members of the team. But before this, we want to build a strong infrastructure for our team so that it can be sustainable and keeps growing every year. I would like to hear about other community team’s stories and advices from them especially on how they are formed, where do they work, how do they recruit new members, how do they handle their financial businesses etc. I know there are great community teams out there such as 3476 Code Orange and 4481 Team Rembrandts and I am sure there are way more than them.

I would really appreciate any help. Thanks a lot!

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Stable space is likely your biggest challenge. Especially space where you can setup and use tools. As you are aware, the key characteristics you are looking for are size, allowed to use tools, ideally allowed to leave stuff setup, 24 hour access (including holidays and weekends), decent internet connection, secure storage. The best solution would be finding a sponsor who will provide the space, as renting it can be very expensive (may be country specific).

As a community team you are free of all the restrictions that the school puts on you (how funding works, who can buy stuff, how the money must be manged, when you can meet, who can be on the team, etc). However, you give up a consistent, convenient space that your students are already at, at the end of the school day.

After space, it is the logistics, since you now have to do them all yourself. Typically that means forming some sort of limited liability corporation, so that you can acquire and hold liability insurance. The specific rules around this are going to be very country specific. On top of your local country based rules, First imposes certain requirements, which may have country specific requirements.

In terms of recruiting and growing, it is all about visibility. Develop strong branding and get out in the community (tech fairs, community events, school demos for schools that do not have their own robotics group). We formed a community team 4 years ago, with a nucleus of around 6 students from a school team that was taking a break. I think we had 30ish students our first year.

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2702 had a very similar experience when we transitioned to a community team in 2018. We went from around 15 students to over 50 by getting involved in our community. I don’t think students is going to be the issue. Kids love robots, but finding long-term space is a little more difficult than taking a robot to a demo. If you can, find a company that’s willing to give you space in their office. We’re very thankful to Google for their continued support of our team, and we’ve developed a great relationship with them.

I guess what I’m trying to say is get involved with your local STEM community. Students, companies, mentors all need to hear about you somehow!

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Place to Work & Practice

  • Our current space sponsor didn’t know much about the program in 2012 when we got started (he just had some empty space he hadn’t rented out yet), then he got hooked after watching how much the program built up the students. He has also had several interns out of our program, which helps strengthen the relationship and maintained our build space

Recruiting Students

  • Word-of-mouth was how it got started, supplemented by community events and exposure gets more inbound requests to join the team. Siblings and mentors joining with their kids are also very common. Generally, because students aren’t just staying after school, we get more students that “want to be there” than you would on the average school-based team. However, we have to work a bit harder to get our name/number out there for recruiting the students

Liability

  • We have a liability insurance plan in place to protect our mentors and our workplace sponsor

Non-Profit Status (Not sure how this works in Turkey)

  • We created a non-profit organization (a 501c3 in the US) so companies could provide tax-deductible donations to our team. This also provides some organizational structure since there is a board president, members of the board, etc who are almost all team mentors

Travel

  • We rely heavily on parent involvement to reduce cost in this area. Travel is completely ‘on your own’, and if a student is not traveling with their parents, they need to work with another parent to designate a supervisor. This isn’t the only way we do it, but it is the way we have found that best scales with the number of events we do each year.

Accounting

  • We need to follow Pennsylvania 501c3 accounting rules, which vary based on our team budget each year. This will vary by state, region & country

Other bonuses to being a community team

  • No restrictions on what days you can and can’t work
  • No restrictions on what time you can and can’t work
  • Most of the students don’t know each other from school, so there is rarely bad blood established between students when they join the team
  • Don’t have to work through a school to buy things
  • Don’t have an administration that needs to approve team activities
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Some of the pros can also be cons. For example having students coming from all different schools is a pro in many ways, but it also means that it’s difficult for students to meet up to work or plan. You can’t just say “hey let’s all meet at lunch for a quick chat”, you have to book a room, tell the kids, they need to arrange rides to get there etc.

As a community team we naturally gravitate toward doing more STEM outreach events in order to get our name out there, engage with existing and potential sponsors and solicit new ones. Everything we do requires intentional effort, as bjtheone mentioned. One year a property management company sponsored us with a 1,000 sq ft retail space to work out of - but it was literally an empty room and we had to go buy a bunch of tables and chairs. It’s little things like that you need to be aware of - both that you’ll need them and then you need to acquire them.

Some of our best sponsors connected with us in ways we could not predict. For example our current sponsor of build space met us while we were volunteering to run a BBQ at the local air show.

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@Ben_Martin, @Carol, @John_Larock, and @Clem1640 are some people I would suggest speaking to. Ben from 225 already weighed in above with some excellent insight, and 365 and 1640 are also community based teams now. 1640 actually works out of a mall in their area which has been an absolute boon to their outreach success. I know next-to-nothing about running a community based team, but there is a wealth of information that can be gained from those listed above.

Edit: Still getting acquainted with discourse. Wrong reply.

I think you might be replying to the wrong person. @GreyingJay is a mentor on a community team and is also a significant wealth of information on the subject.

You want to be clicking the reply button under the blurb about “This topic will close a year after the last reply.” to reply to the thread directly instead of to the last person who commented.

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Thanks! I seem to have a lot to say on the topic, yes. We’ve definitely had our share of ups and downs. Our biggest challenge continues to be finding a reliable space for the whole team to work together. You can choose to view our team as a cautionary tale or a story of perseverance. Many teams seem to eventually settle on something - you guys have Google, 4476 was at their museum for a while. We’re hoping our time will come soon :smile:

Reliable access to a space is one of the hardest things for community teams by a significant margin. We are still struggling with this as well. Case and point, we don’t have a space to meet right now as the place we were meeting is being renovated. We got kicked out halfway through the season and last I heard won’t be let back in till September.

On top of the issue of just getting access to a space, most available spaces are not very conducive to the kind of work FRC teams typically do. (The spaces can sometimes become a limit to the teams in house manufacturing capabilities.)

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Hey, I’m from Team 7461, and we’d love to help out, being in an extremely similar situation. Build space is definitely a major challenge, but if you reach out enough, you’re bound to find space. There are a few other challenges, but they come up as you go along. Feel free to send us an email at team7461@gmail.com, and we can definitely help you out more as you go along. Also, for rookies, FullCircle is an amazing resource for getting through the process of starting a team (more info can be found at: http://fullcirclefrc.org/)

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I am one of the Fab mentors the same team as @GreyingJay. Clean space is easier to come by, since all you need is a physical space and hopefully decent internet. We have used a lounge area of a local rec center, a library meeting room, office space in a high tech building, a private school, and a vacant commercial space. It is very convenient if you can do controls work (relatively clean work), and drive the robot there for software work. Dedicated space is always better since you can store all the control “stuff” instead of carting it around. We have also build up a fair amount of development hardware, for the software team to test on.

The issue is always fab and build space. Unless you outsource everything, at the bare minimum you are going to be cutting and drilling metal, and most likely tapping. This rules out many spaces, either due to liability or due to mess. If you want to move up the fabrication food chain you need to be able to setup larger pieces of equipment that really don’t like getting moved around, or are just too large to easily move around. Our current fab capacity is limited by having no lathes or mills. We are pondering acquiring smaller/portable mini versions to get some fab capacity versus holding off until we have the space for more suitable sized equipment. The other alternative is getting into 3D printing parts as the cost is coming down and the strength of the parts is increasing.

The other issue is managing the logistics of separate clean and dirty spaces. Having design & fab work in one space and controls & software in another tends to create silos.

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Yup, I know the pain. We’ve been dealing with the same issues. It’s tricky and I hope we figure it out some day.

We’ve been pretty lucky on 6844. We’ve partnered with several local companies. One let us use their space after hours, including their machine shop. Other sponsors have donated CNC time or anodized for us.

Can confirm. This is also true for recruiting mentors. My philosophy is that recruitment and sponsorship are attitudes, not discrete activities. You catch more fish if you always have your line out.

My advice:

  • Never give up. Starting 6844 has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. There have been times where I feel like the world has been on my shoulders, or that I’ve got a few fingers holding on to the side of a cliff. Persistence has paid off.
  • Leverage your local community. Seek out leaders and pitch the team to them. Ask them how they can help you.
  • Leverage the FRC community. If you can work with another established team in your area, that’s excellent. You can also reach out to other people who are farther away; for instance, you can always reach me by email (preferred) or via PM. There are some great resources that other teams have put out there. One of my favorites is the Compass Alliance.
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