Peppermint Pitch winner: Steph Piper

Colin Houltham at HSBNE – Peppermint Pitch

In a somewhat forgotten corner of Brisbane, a couple of hundred metres down from the city’s popular Eat Street Markets at Portside Wharf, lies a little-known wonderland of creativity.

Known as HackerSpace Brisbane, or HSBNE for short, the sprawling workshop is part of the nation-wide hackerspace movement – not dungeons full of computer nerds hacking government systems, but inspiring community spaces packed with almost every tool and piece of machinery imaginable.

Here, creatives and makers gather to fix broken down bits and bobs, upcycle cast-offs into mindboggling new ‘Frankensteined’ machines, and learn everything from woodmaking and metalwork to 3D printing and sewing.

At our most recent PepTalks event in Brisbane, HSBNE president Steph Piper wowed the crowd to win our one-minute Peppermint Pitch competition (supported by QUT Creative Enterprise Australia). Here she tells us more about HSBNE’s positive impact on its members and the wider community…

Peppermint Pitch winner Steph Piper

Peppermint Pitch winner Steph Piper

What actually is a ‘hackerspace’ and what do you do there?

The hackerspace movement embraces the ‘sharing economy’, and enables us to learn new skills and build or repair things we wouldn’t usually be able to. HSBNE provides the facilities, tooling and community for anyone to learn how to build their ideas – from hobbyists and students. to professionals and start-ups.

If you’ve ever tried to make something, you know it can be tough. Tools are expensive and buying for just a couple of uses is often not justifiable. Brisbane residential houses often don’t have the room for a personal workshop, and loud machinery can bother your neighbours. HSBNE began in 2009 with a group of locals who wanted to start a community workshop. They put forward seed funding out of their own pockets and the space evolved, with growing membership, from a house to a small space, and then to a warehouse.

Your workshop is based in Brisbane City, but is this a national thing?

Australia currently has 12 hackerspaces, mostly based in our capital cities. I recently conducted a survey if you’d like to find one near you.

What kinds of things can people do or learn at your hackerspace workshop?

HSBNE is ideal for self-driven learners with project ideas. We provide equipment and expertise in electronics, microcontrollers, drones, 3D printing, laser cutting, sewing, crafts, woodworking, metalworking, welding, automotive repair, blacksmithing and casting.

Our members have undertaken projects in upcycled furniture, motorised skateboards, 3D printer builds, Arduino, raspberry pi, R2D2 builds, robotics, VR goggle development, turbine prototyping, LED suspenders and so much more. We also host regular workshops, with sessions on how to use EL Wire, how to solder and silversmithing all coming up soon.

You join as a member for $60 per month (or $30 concession) and get 24/7 access to our workshop, in order to chase your building dreams.

What personally inspired you to get involved with HSBNE?

I joined in 2015 when I was working in research on 3D printable and biodegradable scaffolds. I became a member to work on my 3D printer, and get a deeper understanding of how to fix and improve our approach to 3D printing in the lab.

The range of expertise at HSBNE allowed me to talk over different approaches with others and find new ways to tackle old issues. This allowed me to work faster and not linger on problems that often have an easy fix.

I was also really inspired by the tenacity of the membership; no problem or challenge is too large. Since I joined HSBNE, I’m much more willing to have a go at things that seem challenging to learn or build. I’m now comfortable with building chairs from scrap timber, hosting 3D printing workshops and working with microcontrollers. I became president in 2016.

How does the Brisbane hackerspace positively impact the community?

We’ve held more than 75 community events over the past year, including open nights, workshops and networking nights. We’ve run a kids robotics workshop with the Starlight Children’s Foundation and have been involved in providing technology-infused activities for kids at the Brisbane Festival and the World Science Festival.

We’ve founded partnerships with local festivals and businesses to share resources and knowledge, including Queensland’s Burning Man festival equivalent, Modifyre; e-waste recycling plant, Substation 33; upcycling non-profit Reverse Garbage, new arts and events space House Conspiracy and co-working space, Little Tokyo Two.

HSBNE has also been the springboard to launch start-ups such as She Skills, a women’s woodworking and up-skilling initiative; FOVE, the world’s first eye-tracking virtual reality headset; and Uzebox, an educational retro gaming console.

The skills that members gain at the space has often lead to employment opportunities, and there’s a great social aspect of being around people who are excited to build, learn and share skills.

What challenges are you currently facing?

Our main challenges are spreading the word and securing funding. It’s hard to get across the breadth of what we’re about in a few words, especially with social media. And funding HSBNE is expensive, especially as a non-profit, volunteer organisation in expansion and with tools and consumables that need constant maintenance.

What excites you most about the Brisbane hackerspace?

I love the lightbulb moments. Sometimes I might give a tour for someone who has never seen a 3D printer before. The moment the concept clicks, that realisation of potential really is a frisson moment. The more I understand and learn new skills, the more I find myself daydreaming about projects and the things that are now possible.

How can people get involved or help HSBNE?

We hold weekly Tuesday open nights from 5pm and monthly Saturday open days – our Facebook events page has all the information. We’re always after more volunteers and donations to improve the space and help out with fundraising, and donations can be made via our website.

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PHOTO OF STEPH PIPER AT PEPTALKS BY COLIN HOCKEY

Have you got a budding idea for a positive project, social enterprise or creative business you’d like to bring into the world? The Peppermint Pitch, supported by QUT Creative Enterprise Australia, is an opportunity to pitch your idea to audience members at our PepTalks events, for the chance to win $300 and a feature here on our blog.

To enter, simply purchase a ticket to one of our upcoming PepTalks events in June (we’re hitting Brisbane, Byron Bay, Sydney and Melbourne), and place your name down for the Peppermint Pitch upon arrival. We’ll draw three names during the event, with these people asked to present a one-minute pitch to the crowd. Audience voting will take place during intermission and the winner will be awarded $300 on the spot, plus an online interview. Get your thinking caps on!

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