A citizen sensor based social enterprise?

Hey folks,
As you may know, I’ve been exploring different ideas around how to expand Tech Shed into something bigger that continues to positively impact the local community.

Last Night…
Myself and James went along to a ‘Grow’ a social enterprise support event at the Town Hall last night. There was a lot of support and positive vibes around Tech Shed and lots of interest in our air sensor project. We had a good chat with Peter Wheelhouse (Economic Development & Regeneration Manager & Deputy Town Clerk), who started to really ‘get’ what we could do. He talked about wanting to create other things around a ‘connected / smart town’ e.g. bus time panels or displays perhaps in nearby shops and bus stops to encourage more bus use. I said this is the sort of thing we could create prototypes for. I also hinted at the idea of creating a stronger relationship with the council for projects like this.

One of the challenges
If we were to do projects like this, is that it would start to put us at risk of creating a service or product that we can’t really support or build during volunteer hours (2 hr per week). I.e. if we put a prototype or sold a product and it breaks, who’s going to fix it within 24/48hr? There will be a level of admin, marketing and design to this as well.

A possible solution to scaling up…
So in order to take on larger stuff, we’d need to have some funding that could pay some of our members to work on, create, and support services and products on a commissioned/project basis. In terms of getting funding, I’m scratching around the idea of setting up a separate arm of Tech Shed that specifically focuses on citizen data, smart tech and sensors. The idea of setting up separate would be to insulate Tech Shed from any risk and also not lose focus that Tech Shed can be just a space to tinker and socialise… People could still work on the same projects in Tech Shed but we’d have more funding to give people more time, space and equipment to build bigger stuff and support it.

In order to get funding and grow, we’d need to have a clear proposition that aligns with wider goals and objectives from other entities. It occurred to me that Town and district councils, are and will continue to be very focused on the climate for which they are applying for funding.

So I was thinking about the idea of a Citizen Sense Social Enterprise focused on creating a smart town with

  • Products (damp detectors, air sensors, water sensors)
  • Workshops (for people to learn and upskill)
  • Commissioned projects ( interactive displays like bus times, or air sensors in town that a more complex)

As a social enterprise, 60% of the profits have to go back into things that support our social mission e.g. Tech Shed and 40% of profits can goto members in form of dividends (not expecting it to be that much!). This just me exploring ideas so welcome thoughts, ideas and feedback. Anyone that wants to get involved I’m thinking of doing some brainstorming this Saturday.

If successful we could then offer service to other town councils in the area. Sort Smart Tech upgrade, or at least helping to cultivate other Tech Shed-esk models…

This is very similar to

also of note

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Very interesting and positive to consider setting up a doing-things associated venture.

I would strongly advise that it should be a separate concern, although of course it can share branding, and people, and expertise. I’d also advise that anything aimed at delivering something should consider the possibilities of support, liability, and ownership dispute. There may be a need for legal advice (which might be donated.)

Personally I’m strongly in favour of supporting open source and open hardware projects, so I’d only want to work on such things. For biggest impact, whatever we do, we can (and I think we should) aim to make it reusable by others, either as-is or modified.

And of course, it should be clear that anyone who values Tech Shed principally as a place to meet and tinker should know that that’s a fully supported point of view. No pressure or presumption that anyone should contribute to projects or to an associated social enterprise.

So, I say yes, do the thing, but take care to do it properly! It should be very positive for the community we all live in.

I’m up for meeting on Saturday.

I think an electronic display board (big) outside Town Hall is a must.

(Hope all is well)