How to set up and run a Fab Lab without loosing your money as you go along.
Tips and tricks from the Netherlands

Different business models in the Netherlands presented by (standing, from left to right): Ruben Timmers (Saxion FabLab Enschede), Bertus Douwes (Frysklab), Charlotte Jansen (FabLab Breda), André van Rijswijk (Fablab Alkmaar), Vera van Duren (Fablab013), Frits Hoff (Fablab Zuid-Limburg); host: Peter Troxler.

Different business models in the Netherlands presented by (standing, from left to right): Ruben Timmers (Saxion FabLab Enschede), Bertus Douwes (Frysklab), Charlotte Jansen (FabLab Breda), André van Rijswijk (Fablab Alkmaar), Vera van Duren (Fablab013), Frits Hoff (Fablab Zuid-Limburg); host: Peter Troxler.

The Netherlands has the highest density of fab labs globally, and the number of labs is still increasing. Thanks to a diversity of approaches and effective support from the network all these labs are able to survive, one way or another. On December 8th last year, some labs shared their approaches with the community.

Six labs shared their approaches around three topics: bottom-up successes, tricks and troubles with third party financing, and fab labs as independent or as embedded organisations. Charlotte Jansen (Fablab Breda) runs her lab essentially as a “one woman band”, her succes is based on strict cash flow management and extensive networking. At Fablab Alkmaar, represented by André van Rijswijk, mainly volunteers offer (paid) programmes for the local community of schools and other organisations which pays for their costs.

Financing a Fab Lab with third party money (aka subsidies) is a tricky business, particularly when operations are to be subsidised. Frysklab (Bertus Douwes) which is linked to the libraries in the Dutch province of Friesland made it crystal clear to customers that prices were subsidised and would increase after a trial period. Frits Hoff (Fablab Zuid-Limburg) shared his rather unsettling experiences with big, subsidised projects, the burdens of record-keeping and accounting, and the risk of subsidies not being paid when some other partner in the project fails compliance.

Vera van Duren demonstrated how Fablab013 has been set up as a co-op of various local actors and businesses; this construction—akin the US L3C or the British CIC—looks particuarly promising for Fab Labs as it allows to bridge the gap between a non-profit and a for-profit organisation by providing a structure that facilitates investments in socially beneficial, for-profit ventures. Ruben Timmers shared the experiences of Saxion Fablab Enschede which is part of a University. While it appears somewhat easier to programme activities in the lab given the educational context he feels it was a little more difficult to attract visitors from the outside.

The Benelux Fab Lab Foundation is now making these experiences and other tools, tips and trick available to new members of the community who plan to start their own fab lab. In that way, the fab lab network provides operational assistance by sharing what other labs experienced.

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Click here for the extended report “Fab Lab BeNeLux—Business models, good practices and lessons learnt”