A quest for affordable and collaborative workspaces lit the spark for what is today Moonlighter Makerspace in Wynwood.
The company’s founders had explored similar “maker” ventures across the United States and in Europe, and they turned to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at FIU to make Moonlighter in Miami a reality. Essentially, Moonlighter is a makerspace – a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, digital art or electronic art, can meet, socialize and collaborate; in addition, it’s also a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication, known as a Fablab.
Formed by FIU alumni Daisy Nodal MA ’12 and Tom Pupo MA ’13, both also adjunct professors at FIU, the venture offers local designers, entrepreneurs and the public a space to co-create, prototype and retail new innovative products.
“At the time we reached out to the SBDC at FIU, we had no physical location. We only participated in workshops, summer camps, school events and fairs,” Nodal says. “We were struggling to find funding, to gain support from the city, and to open a brick and mortar location.”
She recalls their original business plan was 60 pages long, 40 of them just numbers. “They helped us downsize it to five pages with the correct and must-have information as well as a rendering of what Moonlighter would look like.”
An SBDC mentor worked directly with Nodal and Pupo, and the team met monthly to discuss matters of banking, finances and accounting. Ultimately, the SBDC at FIU helped Nodal and Pupo secure $50,000 in startup financing from the Miami Bayside Foundation for the facility and its programs.
“We learned the importance of organization, discipline and reviewing the financial information regularly,” Nodal says. “If you follow these tips, you can see trends and catch any issues that need tuning up.”
Moonlighter opened its doors August 2015. As part of its offerings, Moonlighter hosts weekly classes that cover everything from 3D printing vases to laser cutting textiles, or using littleBits circuits to create a synth instrument.
“We wouldn’t be here without the SBDC at FIU,” Nodal says. “It wasn’t just the funding that they helped us with, it was the support – they helped us look at the numbers, follow the path we established and stay on track.”
At Moonlighter, members get access to tools that include a 3D-printing lab, a production model CNC Mill, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, handheld 3D-printing pens, industrial sewing machines, a circuits lab, and wood working tools. They can create anything from a custom sticker on the vinyl cutter to custom flat-pack wood furniture with the CNC mill.
Makerspaces have gained traction as startups and freelancers seek affordable, convenient and collaborative workspaces where they can network, learn from one another, and attend workshops and events. Co-working spaces also offer WiFi, access to conference rooms and generous hours of operation.
“Everyone now is opening their minds to something different and creating something new,” Nodal says. “By bringing all of the tools together in one place, Moonlighter is creating a platform for makers to collaborate. We’ve given them the space to come and learn, and build their own futures.”
One of the best pieces of advice Nodal learned from the SBDC at FIU is something she recalls daily. “Keep going, don’t let obstacles stop you,” she adds. “Along the way you’re going to face challenges that will make you reconsider the idea, but don’t let that stop you.”