Creating a self-sustained entity to support GOSH initiatives


#1

There was some discussion about initiating a community directed e-commerce outlet to sell hardware designed by GOSH members and collaborative efforts. This is just one idea to help answer the question about funding I’m starting this topic to brainstorm the possible ways this idea could practically come to life.

Major Issue Right Up Front

First off, yeah this is not easy given the fact that there is no GOSH entity that is enabled to handle money transactions. This is a big deal, and while it’s not an impossible problem it deserves careful attention and community consensus in order to ensure equity, transparency, and support from the GOSH community. I’m not about to advocate for any specific type of entity to solve this problem. If anyone has thoughts please reply.

Cooperative Business Model

I don’t know about this kind of entity in any great detail, but at first look it does appear to fit into the GOSH ethos. Here’s some resources that I have dug up in a simple search.
Good Practice in International Cooperatives. This seems to be Euro-centric.
Starting a Co-op
International Cooperative Alliance

Setting Aside The Major Issue For A Minute

Let’s just say that there is some kind of entity that has the blessing of the GOSH community to operate in an endeavor to benefit GOSH and hardware creators. How would something like this actually work? It seems clear that there would have to be some kind of e-commerce portal for the marketing and sale of open hardware that is useful for science, but how does that actually get manifested?

Reselling

Products hosted by the store could be things that are already in production. Take, for example, the family of tools that is made by Public Lab. The entity could engage with PL as a wholesale distributor, and create a relationship that would benefit PL, the entity, and GOSH. There are already individuals and companies that make open source tools for science that are already involved in the GOSH community. Establishing reseller agreements with them would be low hanging fruit.

Product Creation

Members of the GOSH community would come together and collaborate on new designs that solve scientific hardware problems. Funds generated from the sale of these devices would benefit both the GOSH community and the specific members of GOSH who are the device creators. The breakdown of this split would have to be negotiated somehow, and I imagine it would be defined on a case by case basis.

Design/Engineering Services

In this scenario, individuals or entities would have a way to engage with the GOSH community of super smart and talented people to present a problem in need of a hardware solution. GOSH members would collaborate on how to meet that need, and the result would be documented and made open-source and possibly produced and offered for sale if there is a market for it.

Sustainability

In order for this idea to actually work, it needs to be sustainable. As I’ve laid out the potential income streams, there would have to be enough revenue to support the entity that holds it all together (taxes, fees, advertising, etc) and still offer some financial support to the GOSH community. It’s not really worth it unless it provides some use for us all, right?

What, Exactly, Is The Benefit?

Oh, yeah, that’s kind of important… Well, it seems like the simplest way to do this would be to ‘let the community decide’. In practice, that idea is really just a pile of bones, and needs some connective tissue, muscles, viscera, circulatory system, respiratory system, various glands, and a brain, or multiple brains, in order to become a real thing.


#2

Yeah… it’s hard enough for a profit-generating entity to create a successful open science hardware product which is sustainable, well supported, well documented and pays some amount to those making it…

Doing so in a big group feels like quite a daunting task…

You’d have to figure out how to take greatest advantage of the group itself… perhaps if contributors weren’t paid so development costs were low, or using the group as a marketing or even distribution mechanism if the item was locally produceable… something else?

Whatever the case it would be quite a different model from even the ‘traditional’ (if there is such a thing) open science hardware product.


#3

That’s a very relevant discussion, and in line with some things we’re also dealing with here in Brasil. In the context of our own local network, we decided to create an autonomous body only to manage projects, resources and, well, money. I leave here some references we’re trying to incorporate in our path:

  • Platform Cooperativism - an alternative to VC-funded platform capitalism maintained by exploiting free work, social networks and privacy;
  • Fair.Coop - Earth’s Cooperative ecosystem for a fair economy, with its own cryptocurrency (whose exchange rate is decided in global assemblies via Telegram), an epic birth story, and a number of open source tools for distributed cooperative economies.

#4

I think there is a ton of need in our community for an equivalent ‘hand off’ in traditional tech (usually in the form of IP) from the creator to the manufacturer / distributor. IP provides a way for the original developer to get paid, but not take part in what they are often not so good at which is mass manufacture.

It’s super complicated, and there aren’t many good models, but know that people at sensorica.co have been working on how to transfer value down the chain without IP or other types of restrictions. Thanks for sharing additional models Felipe, we need them!


#5

@gbathree i think it’s easier for us, since we are open-source after all. Creators need to document well so that manufacturers can effectively do the production. Communication between manufacturers and creators to make the process efficient (DFM) is key to this as well. In the Open Source community, there are a few models. For example, SparkFun has a detailed description of how you can ‘sell your widget’ on their website.
Here is their page about that.


#6

Hi, I think this is a super interesting topic and I’m ready to participate. There are some people like @biomurph who know a lot about business and have successfully transformed a whole scientific field (in this case brain computer interfaces) by making it more accessible (top notch open source software + hw, at least 10x lower prices, a business structure to sell and support). We all know how the 3d printing and drones made initially by hackers evolved. It can be done again for a different field. So in order to reach the GOSH goal of making OSHW mainstream and ubiquitous in science, and push certain research fields which are important but lack the right instruments at the right price, it makes a lot of sense to combine know-how in a cooperative model. By generating income it could pay for certain development steps, thus speeding things up and supporting people who don’t benefit from grants or are payed already by universities for the same work. We could combine knowledge to rapidly develop something. Giving back to GOSH in form of money and - even more important - by having cool best-practice instrument designs would be great. I propose to change the topic name a bit to “Creating a self-sustained cooperative entity to support scientific OSHW” or something like that. Selling is important for this idea but not the final goal, I would like this entitiy to BE a GOSH inititative itself (while also supporting others).


#7

In theory, there are people out there who can provide that service - Seeed, Sparkfun, and Adafruit are a few, but many could take a proof of concept and bring it to market.

The question is there limited use of those channels today in GOSH? is it:

  1. The existing channels (sparkfun, seeeed, etc.) are not a good fit for our types of products (markets too small, profit too low, they don’t understand or effectively access our users, etc.)?
  2. Is it that the GOSH community is not informed enough or motivated enough to take it to that stage?
  3. Is it that the market appears small or is unclear because we haven’t defined the value proposition for Open Science Hardware, so we don’t go that route?

Depending on that answer to that question, a GOSH focused ‘commercialization’ (take that term loosely here) initiative, where proof of concept devices were developed into something a mass market (or at least a developer kit) could be the right answer.

I’d love other opinions / discussion on this also.


#8

Many years ago when I participated in the OpenEEG project we collaborated with Olimex to produce (and optionally assemble) the boards - and they are still available (https://www.olimex.com/Products/EEG/). We had a deal that we could get PCBs made for free for our project related to how many EEGs they sold but I think nobody ever made use of that :slight_smile:

Anyways, this arrangement worked but (or maybe because) nobody form the OpenEEG project benefited economically from the arrangement. Our goal to make the hardware available was reached and we outsourced manufacturing.

I think a collaboration between existing channels as in 1) works as long as there is a community behind the project to do the support (for free). If money flows into the direction of the project, the question is who takes care of it and how it is distributed. It opens up a whole bag of problems. And this requires some kind of organization (e.g. the COOP) to regulate it and ensure a “fair” outcome. The effort to build such an organization only makes sense if the market is big enough - which is hard to predict for cutting edge research tools - or if the organization takes care of many products.


#9

I agree with Moritz that maybe we should step back and think about the real goal here (i.e., creating a self-sustaining, community-driven entity to support OScH initiatives while remaining accountable to the GOSH values). Obviously there are many different kinds of “support” (collaboration, mentorship, etc.), but the type that requires a new legal “entity” and one that seems to be seriously lacking in our community so far, is an organization that provides “financial” support (e.g., grants, salaries, residencies, etc.) to achieve community-defined goals.

If there is a need and desire to create such an entity, then we can talk about:

  1. how to make it sustainable (i.e., where does the money come from)
  2. how it should be governed (i.e., how to decide how to allocate funds)

The ideas of selling hardware through some kind of online store and/or providing services to help commercialize/scale GOSH-community projects at ideation, design, manufacturing and/or distribution phases are just potential solutions to part 1. My personal view is that there are many ways to sell/promote OScH and/or offer commercialization services without having to create a brand new legal entity. Existing GOSH companies could certainly do a better job at cross-distributing and cross-promoting each other’s products and by offering similar services/partnership opportunities as those provided by companies like SparkFun and SEEED.

I’m more interested in part 2 (developing an organization, governance structure for the community to decide where/how to allocate financial resources). Co-operative models seems like a great fit here, since by definition, they are organizations that exist to help people co-operate on shared objectives. My vision for the easiest way to bootstrap/fund such an organization is based on an example from the environmental movement, 1% for the planet. Basically, companies and individuals who want to become members pledge to donate 1% of their sales (for companies) or income (for individuals) to the organization which then distributes funds to further the movement. These contributions do not have to be entirely financial (e.g., some portion can be volunteer or in-kind). For an individual, that could be volunteering 4 days a year. Becoming a member means that you get to have a say in how the funds are distributed, and companies also get some good PR and a logo/certification to demonstrate their commitment/support of OScH.

I think this could be a powerful model for collectively supporting/growing OScH. Personally, I am on a mission to learn as much as I can about different models/case studies for sustainably financing collective action. If anyone has other good examples or books to suggest, please let me know. There are already some good ones on the GOSH book club list.