E.Louise Larson

Prototype

Founding a Feminist Makerspace in Pittsburgh, PA

 
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Established
2016

Roles
CEO • Co-Founder

Responsibilities
Program Development • Grant Management • Budget Creation • Teaching • Customer Service • Design • Branding • Public Speaking • Development

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Outcome

  • +$100k Grant Support

  • 150 Paying Members

  • 5 Businesses Incubated

  • 3k Women Served

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Mission

Promote racial and gender equity in Pittsburgh’s tech and entrepreneurship sectors.

 
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Prototype’s mission is to build gender and racial equity in tech and entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh, PA. We do this by providing affordable access to high tech tools and equipment, offering workshops that prioritize the experiences of marginalized communities, and cultivating a gender-inclusive professional support network.

As a feminist organization, we strive to establish best practices and new business standards. This means valuing our stakeholders, taking time for slow growth, and creating sustainable economic opportunities for our organization.

 
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Social Enterprise

My primary goals for Prototype have to establish stable business strategies. To do this, I’ve identified our core value proposition as outlined in this diagram. As a platform, Prototype provides a network, space, and tools. Our services, a makerspace, co-working, and an incubator, arise from the platform. In combination, Prototype is a dynamic organization serving feminists of all genders in western Pennsylvania. To read more about the vision and goal of Prototype, visit prototypepgh.com.

 
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Identity

The initial branding of Prototype draws inspiration from architecture, punk culture, and femme-futurism. Balancing handmade and high-tech aesthetics, the Prototype brand reflects the spectrum of members who use the space, from zine-makers to electrical engineers. I designed and created our internal branded apparel and accessories using a combination of traditional craft and high-tech fabrication.

 
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Programs

Sharing skills is at the heart of community. Prototype workshops teach a broad range of skills that provide access to new knowledge through hands-on making, equity-building skills, and a community of support. A few favorites include desktop laser cutting, salary negotiation, and DIY funeral preparation. I teach Prototype classes on resume writing, CAD modeling, 3D printing, and laser cutting.

Along with co-founder Erin Gatz, I have also taught workshops on prototyping, community building, and entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh, Chatham University, and Carnegie Mellon University.

 
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Program:

Women’s Work

The Women’s Work incubator connects new companies with the support they need. In 2019, Prototype is incubating 5 women owned companies. Each company has a desk and equipment storage at Prototype, personalized mentorship from our board of directors and advisors, and access to our workshops, tools, and equipment.

 
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Goals

  • Provide Goal-driven Mentorship

  • Connect Subject Matter Expert Resources

  • Create New Business Standards

 

Impact

  • Support 10 MWDBE Businesses

  • Foster entrepreneurial spirit

  • Diversify economy through business retention

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“It’s easy to frame the incubator as a charitable act, but it’s smart business to invest in women.”

— Erin Gatz,
Prototype Co-Founder

 
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Read more about Women’s Work at The Incline, a Pittsburgh news organization

 
 
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Program:

City As Our Makerspace

This program was funded by a Sprout Fund and BNY Mellon grant

 
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Duration
6 months

Roles
Facilitator • Grant and Budget Manager • Instructor

Techniques + Tools
Co-design • Affinity Diagramming • User Research • Stakeholder Interviews

Partners
Prototype, Ujamaa Collective, Black Unicorn Library and Archives, Flowerhouse, A Peace of Mind

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Outcome

The partnership of 5 local organizations to serve a cohort of black women entrepreneurs.

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Goals

  1. Build a dedicated professional network of women

  2. Develop technical, entrepreneurial, and wealth-building skills

  3. Increase the earning potential by $15,000 through our unique and holistic approach to uplifting the whole woman

 
Stakeholder Meeting #1. Photo Courtesy of Erin Gatz

Stakeholder Meeting #1. Photo Courtesy of Erin Gatz

Partner with local organizations to expand makerspace programming beyond the Prototype facility and increase access to maker programs across Pittsburgh. We call this project “The City As Our Makerspace” because it shifts the view of a makerspace. Making is no longer contained to the four walls of a space. Instead, making can happen in any venue because the city is our maker space. Each woman will set her own goals metrics of success through goal mapping.

Impact

Five strategic partners collaborated on a $55,000 grant to support a 6-month cohort of ten women to build cooperatively build economic opportunities for themselves and their communities.

  • 10 cohort members

  • 55 program attendees

  • 10 workshops delivered on topics like wealth-building for Black communities and DIY book-binding

  • Multiple business partnerships were created through this program

 

Each member of the cohort will be provided with an honorarium upon completion of the program. The program will introduce models of cooperative wealth-building and encourage graduates to work together on investments. Bus tickets will be provided to and from classes, childcare will be offered on site at no cost, and there will always be free food available at the classes.

Through co-design methods in stakeholder meetings, this project narrowed its scope the the four goals outlined above. Ultimately, the project sufficiently met all goals.

 

Problem space

In our working group meetings, stakeholders discussed past attempts to broaden the maker movement and access to technology. These failed attempts specifically identified unrealistic economic expectations of makerspace dues, hostility toward women, or workshops that were too infrequent to maintain momentum.

 
 
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Due to the collaborative nature of this grant, Prototype facilitated several meetings where the initial idea was retooled with stakeholders. Through this process the initial City As Our Makerspace project was enhanced to meet the specific needs of the stakeholders and future participants.

The initial project concept sought to serve women, with a focus on low-income women and women of color. The needs identified among this demographic include providing affordable skills-based training with childcare, increasing access to safe spaces where women feel supported intellectually and emotionally, creating connections between women who want mentors and women who serve as role models, capacity building workshops where women can widen their skillset in a welcoming and inclusive environment, and having spaces that center the experiences of non-binary people and women.

 

from the grant report:

Reflections on the Working Group Process

Over the course of our working group meetings, it became more clear that Prototype needs to support existing organizations in Pittsburgh that have been engaged in the work of increasing economic opportunities for low-income women, specifically women of color, for a long time. By working together throughout our group meetings, we explored what it meant to create a shared and inclusive understanding of women’s economic realities. We also developed the idea of creating a foundation that would be available to women who want to become more financially stable, starting with emotional healing from the effects of poverty. This additional funding would be available to marginalized women in PGH who need seed funding for start-up businesses.

The majority of this project description originally appeared in the grant reporting.