I’m the founder and president of NashMicro, the Nashville Microcontrollers Users’ Group based in Nashville, Tenn. I’m also a big fan of the Gadgeteer microcontroller prototyping system. Somehow I ended up volunteering myself and NashMicro to do several presentations and teach some workshops on Gadgeteer at a couple upcoming conferences to a couple user groups and at the Nashville Mini Maker Faire in September. No big deal. I know what I’m doing, right? Well, there was one big problem with this plan. We didn’t have enough Gadgeteer kits available to actually teach more than a couple people at a time and we needed to be able to teach 10.
So, we went into fundraising mode. We figured if we could acquire five kits then that would satisfy our needs this year. Most of the workshops will be introductory level, but I wanted to also be able to teach more advanced workshops to our user group. So, we decided to go with a kit with several modules and settled on the FEZ Cerberus Tinker Kit sold by GHI Electronics. The kit sells for $99.95. So, for five of them we were looking raise at least $500. To raise this, we were going to be a bit creative. Time to put the maker gear in motion!
Fairly quickly I came up with an idea: We were going to sell ad space. But we weren’t going to do it in a traditional way through our website. We were going to design and build custom mounting boards and sell a small space on the board for a sponsor’s logo. We were also going to put their logo in lights!
Rather than use acrylic for the mounting boards, we decided to make it as a custom PCB and call it the SponsorBoard module. Since we were going to have PCBs produced, it was only natural to also build a module into the board with which the user could interact. A ring of LEDs circling the logo would be perfect. What sponsor could turn that down?
It turned out that IngenuityMicro has an open source module design, the LED Level module, that did what we needed. Since it was an already proven design, there was little risk that we would need any revisions after the initial small batch was ordered. This was important since we were only going to ask enough for the sponsorship to pay for the kit and the cost of a single mounting board.
The kits come from GHI, in a nice plastic box. We wanted to still be able to use this box to protect the kits when not in use. So, the dimensions of the board needed to match the inside dimensions of the box and everything needed to fit once mounted to the board.
Once we settled on the idea, it was simply a matter of a few hours in Eagle laying out the design and then placing the PCB order with DFRobot.com, sourcing and ordering the SMT parts, and waiting. About a week later the PCBs were ready to be assembled.
Did I mention that it took less than two weeks to locate buyers for the ad space and fund this project? It was an easy sell and local Nashville companies were eager to get their logo in front of makers and technology professionals. We also threw in a free year of ad space on our website for good measure.
Overall, this was a fairly simple project that yielded many gains for NashMicro and many other local individuals and organizations that we will interact with teaching these workshops. Our sponsors will also benefit for years to come with their names permanently attached to the kits.
We also hold the current record for largest Gadgeteer module
If you’re interested in making your own SponsorBoard module, the design is available on GitHub. Be sure to include attribution to NashMicro for the board and to IngenuityMicro for their LedLevel design.
MAKE is not actually a NashMicro sponsor. The MAKE logo was used for demonstration purposes only.