Sustainability, Grants, Finding build space - Call for help

After 18 years in operation, NC GEARS Team 1918 is faced with a challenge on a timeline that we were unprepared for. We are located in Newaygo County, MI (West Michigan).

Our primary fiduciary partner and owner of our build space and equipment has indicated that they will no longer be supporting our team and has, as of this moment, disabled our access to everything the team previously owned.

Assuming that we are starting from scratch like a rookie team with no school affiliation (we have a 501(c)3 fiducial partner as a booster org, but this was new so there is no money there yet), what order should we be attacking things and how do we approach

  • finding sustaining grants
  • finding build space
  • securing tooling and raw materials
  • getting robot parts
  • acquiring laptops for cad/programming

We literally have nothing at this point, and cannot rely on resolving this with our former school district prior to next season.

We are not above a little hard work, as we are aware that we are faced with an uphill battle. We have ~18 students and ~9 mentors with 250years+ combined engineering and software development experience, so we are in a good place from a technical side.

We are not above begging and asking for sustainability help and donations, but we have no really close teams with build space we can share. Feel free to reach out to me personally if you think you may be able to help in any way, even if it is an information dump of potential resources, jim at ncgears dot com.

As you can imagine, time is pretty critical here, so any advise or resources you can provide are welcomed.

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In terms of getting robot parts we have a collection of KitBot spares (gearboxes, motors, hubs, belts, frame stock) you are welcome to pick-thru/have to rebuild your inventory. We are getting more or less locked out for the summer so we would have to figure out a specific day and make a request, but given the school’s opinion that we have too much stuff to keep it all organized I’m sure they would allow it. Feel free to shoot me a DM

Will they not let you get your stuff? Do you have receipts for your stuff?

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Contact your local state reps/senators and town/city/county government to ask for help locating an empty space you can use for build. Local commercial real estate agents are a good resource too. Are there light industrial areas with empty warehouse space that could donate use for at least this season? An empty retail storefront? With a 501(c)3 through the booster org, there is at least the tax write off incentive if the space isn’t otherwise being used.

Have a letter ready to go to make the ask that not only includes what you’re looking for (square footage, access, power supplies, wifi, etc.) but also what the team does, why it’s a good thing for local students, and why it could benefit the donor in the long run (local workforce development, technology leaders, skills/leadership development, etc). Go ahead and play the pity card with a short summary of the situation about being kicked out of your previous space, but you have the experience on the team to continue giving your students hands-on learning opportunities if you can just get the space/grants/materials. That letter will also be useful for asking for grants/donations/materials from local businesses.

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At this point, we don’t know. They are not communicating with us. There may be some disagreement on who actually “owns” the assets of the team. They believe they own the team, so the assets of the team may be tied up in disagreement for an unknown amount of time.

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This is a lot. First off, very sorry this happened to you.

To start, do you have any other corporate/community sponsors that you can reach out to to at least know of their commitment for next season?

For grants, you have plenty of options given that you have non-profit status. Check the database here that @Dominick_Ferone and crew has put together. I can also assist with this as my database has been merged with that one. Feel free to reach out to me via dm (with proper ypp protocols, I am a student so if you do I will be adding a mentor, fyi) if you want assistance in identifying which grants are your priority to fill out/which ones will be the best option given time and people.

Also, Michigan has a state grant for every team, right?

Something I would be doing in tandem would be setting a budget for next year. Try to get a realistic idea of how much you need to raise, although that is only half of the problem.

For laptops, is it possible to have students use personal laptops? Does your team use Onshape or some other, more intensive CAD software? If it isn’t possible to use personal laptops, I would reach out to corporate companies in the area, as they often have business laptops that get retired every so often. You could also try reaching out to laptop companies, such as lenovo directly. Another option would be asking local teams if they have any extra they can loan for a season or two.

Build space is probably going to be the biggest issue. As others have said, contacting local/state government entities might work. Basically everything @krbonner said. Worst case scenario, if someone is willing to reorganize/rearrange their garage for a season, that would give you more time to look for space while still having a space to compete.

In terms of tooling, asking around machine/autobody shops for old machines, or even just for access for machines could work. I would recommend if you can getting a 3D printer, or if someone is willing, using a personal 3D printer as that can allow you to print a lot of COTs parts like pulleys or spacers that you can use in season. For bigger metal plates/gussets, you either have to find someone willing to make the plates for you or you could use fabworks.com, as they are pretty cheap and fast, all things considered. (plus they have many discount codes you can use).

Material/robot parts, asking around other teams/scrapyards/big warehouses could get you somewhere. I’m sure there are many people willing to give some motors/motor controllers, spare cots gussets, a sheet of aluminum (although you still have the issue of cutting it), maybe some boxtube, etc over to you all.

Final thing, would running some sort of gofundme or other fundraiser help? I’m sure within the FIRST community we could spread it around.

Feel free to shoot me a DM for any clarification, and as always I’m willing to help out.

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Yes. I hadn’t thought of this, and I am a little humble, but running out of options. We (the mentors) refuse to let an 18 year old team with 15 banners (including a state championship) and 30+ industry awards just die because some administrators decided to cross off a line-item. I will set this up tonight and share.

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Michigan MDE grants are accessible only to teams with a school as a fiducial partner. Our former fiducial partner exerted more control over the assets and operation of the team than was necessary, which is what created this mess. We prefer to not get back into this situation for a couple grant of grants, if we can clear these hurdles, we will be better off with our non-school fiduciary (non-profit org).

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There is some of this, both some unused retail storefronts (several readily available, in various states of condition) as well as some light industrial (this may take some more searching). We will start on this road by contacting some real-estate agents.

I hadn’t considered local govt and state reps to help. I am trying to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the amount of stuff we have to figure out still.

In 2017, we found our workspace (an unused stand-alone building on the campus of a local industrial plant) through a connection with our town’s Selectboard (equivalent of the city council in larger municipalities). Maybe ask if any of the mentors, parents, etc happen to have a connection to someone like that already so you’re not starting from a blank slate.

I hope you’re able to find a solution easily!

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Would it make sense to become a New Veteran Team and then be eligible for a New Team Grant and a NASA Rookie Grant? If you will have more than 6 experienced students on the team, you can’t be classified as a Rookie Team and get the rookie KoP, but the grants might still be helpful.

I wonder what rules are in place regarding continuing as 1918. What entity “owns” the team number? Consider a case where a school established a team and wants to continue to have a team, but the mentor base wants to separate from the school and run the team themselves. Which entity would be entitled to use the existing team number? It seems logical that the school would have the right to continue to use the number, but by what criteria would that be decided? Depending on what criteria that is, the organization that “owns” 1918 might still own it, even if they choose to no longer have a team. There may be some provision for a “retiring” organization to retain the team number in case they have a change of heart in a year or two and decide that they didn’t want to retire the team after all.

To add to this, In the coming weeks I should have more time to add more grants/fundraising ideas, Resources and more into it.
And some people have already been great with providing some for this.

One of the biggest things to note too, there are many smaller/local options with a little googling you can find. Options I didn’t include in the database, to not have 3000 teams applying for a small grant out in Maryland or anything like that.

Also I recommend seeing in your area, if there’s industrial parks, any non profit groups to coordinate with, stem centers/organizations to work with. These can all help lead into more outreach but also funding opportunities.

We did check with FIM on the matter of continuing as team 1918. They indicated that the team is the team, and it is independent of who the fiduciary partner is, and there was no issue with this. We have adjusted all our data in the dashboard accordingly already.

Team 1918 started with a different fiduciary partner than the one that just ended their relationship with us anyway, so that further demonstrates 1918 as an entity outside of their support.

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Also check Grant Opportunities | FIRST as it populates over the summer/fall. There are usually a bunch of grants that may fit that fund a lot of teams.

This is how 2718 was formed. We were only eligible for one of those two, but we also got the “New Team” amounts from Boeing and DODSTEM and that really helped us out.

On a previous team, a local attorney who specializes in real estate transactions used her connections to find someone who had a vacant storefront we were able to use for $200/month rent for a couple of years.

(We went through a similar situation and so I totally feel for you and the kids. But three years later we are on a huge upward trajectory like it never happened and are in a way better place because of it).

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I am so sorry to hear this! I just looked at your website and didn’t see a link to donate or any information on how to donate to your team. If the website is “owned” by your previous sponsor, you may want to get a new site up and running quickly and be sure to add info on how people can donate to you. Once that is up, share it with us. Many of us respect your team and we would like to help.

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For at least robot parts, do you expect that the school would rather discard those into a dumpster rather than let them be used by the entity you are forming? Perhaps the school might find an ongoing use for machines, tools, and maybe even raw materials, but robot parts are not going to have any other use. There may be acrimony between the sides at the moment, but if cooler heads could prevail, perhaps you might be able to rescue parts and even some of the other items.

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Your neighbors in Muskegon are happy to help in any way that we can. I know that 4004 has a very loose relationship with N. Muskegon schools to get the grant money and have a “home school” and they started as a community school similar to 1918’s structure meeting off site and pulling from several districts. It’s easy money to find if you have at least a friendly relationship with a district.

How much space do you guys need to be comfortable? I can ask a few people who are in commercial real estate if they are aware of any local options or if there is another group with facilities available that might be willing to help out.

Even though we neighbor as counties, I know it’s over an hour shop to shop but let us know if you need a place to stash things for a bit or if you need anything else that we might be able to help with.

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If you haven’t yet, start contacting your Board of Ed and Town Council (or equivalent). Get parents and students to show up to any remaining board meetings and each speak about the team and its impact on your town/city/students, and why it needs to be kept. You don’t have to write speeches for this, just have people go up and say a few things from the heart. It’s pretty impactful to show up with 20+ people to a Board of Ed meeting all for the same cause.

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We will have that up by tonight sometime. The website ncgears.com forwards to the old sponsor, but is totally separate. By tonight, it will no longer go to the old sponsor.

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To clarify: I believe the sponsor in question is not a school (Sustainability, Grants, Finding build space - Call for help - #8 by JimB1918).

I think your point applies just as well, though. I don’t know what use a company would have for some FRC components.