A Start Up Trek – Global Scale

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Picture of the entire Earth from spacePicture of the entire Earth from space

‘The Blue Marble’, Earth as seen from Apollo 17.

I am starting a new public accessible prototyping lab in Huntsville, Alabama, called MindGear Labs based on the fab lab model. I’ve dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and have done a fair amount of research on the topic. But this is my first attempt at starting a business. Here is where I document weekly my mistakes and successes in creating a business from the ground up.

Well for the second week in a row I’m a day behind on my post. I could have written yesterday but I was on some pretty interesting painkillers from minor foot surgery. Apparently I was the hit of my Pathfinder gaming group last night. Too bad I don’t remember much of it.

I am transitioning this blog as of this entry. I have spent most of my time discussing the business and financial aspects of starting a new business. In the past few months I’ve built more spreadsheets than I can count, read a half dozen books on accounting and business management, and written nearly 20 articles on the subject. I’ve really run out of things to write on this subject. Certainly there is plenty to be discussed here, but I was struggling to find topics that didn’t reveal too much about my specific business plan. Also I think if I have to read another accounting book I may go cross-eyed.

However I guess I can dedicate one more paragraph to summarize what I’ve accomplished in the process of creating MindGear. I started at the beginning of the year by opening a simple spreadsheet and making some wild guesses about customer patronage, membership fees and markup. I thought I was going to make a mint, and worried that I was charging too much. Then I included all the expenses and fees that I wasn’t accounting for and realized I wasn’t charging enough to break even. I’ve spent the past few months refining my business plan, networking, looking for a location, networking, learning the basics of accounting and finance, and networking.

While I’ll never be able to set aside the financial analysis, I feel like I’ve reached the point where I understand it. So I want to focus on MindGear’s operations for a while. I’ve been looking forward to the day that I could start talking about how MindGear will operate. It seems that every few days I am struck with a new revolutionizing way to attract customers, build the coolest place on earth, as well as curing cancer and making everyone’s breath minty fresh. My latest cool idea is to suspend a globe above the checkout counter. I have included here a video from a museum with a similar idea. I think I’ve been inspired by my son’s marathon viewing of Phineas and Ferb. I wish I could whip up incredible things in a day like they do.

Using such a sphere, I could project a simple image of the earth, and then overlay weather patterns or maps. The sphere could also be used as a screen to display pricing and a calendar of events, as well as showing videos. In any case I figured I could show the Earth to scale, and show the moon orbiting the Earth. Given that the Earth has a radius of 6378.15 km, I can scale it down by a factor of 5,000 and end up with a radius of about 4 1/4 ft. But the moon, at 384,400 km away would still be about 250 ft away at scale. That’s a little bigger than the shop, about 10 times bigger. And I’d have to scale the Earth down to a half foot to get the moon to fit. So much for that idea. I also thought about showing things in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), but that tends to be less than 1000 km above the surface (for instance the International Space Station orbits at an average altitude of 407 km). But that means my model station would be less than 4-8 inches from the globe.

There is a lot more to research about the globe option. How many projectors will I need? If I only illuminate around the equator then the top and bottom of the globe will see little light. How will I coordinate the projectors from a single image? What sort of distorting lens will I need? And most importantly, will I be able to find enough uses for the globe to justify the expense? I could go on, but its time to medicate again. Besides, I think maybe Phineas and Ferb built one of these before. Maybe I can get some hints.

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