Below are some bits of wisdom we have gleaned from our past experiences that we would like to share with other teams – hopefully they will be as much use to you as they are to us!
Finding School Support
If you are considering starting a robotics team at your school, the first thing you should do is read up on exactly how FIRST Robotics functions. Then, ask a teacher (probably a technology, science, or math teacher) about whether he or she would be willing to support you in forming a team. This may lead to much more – you might need to draw up some plans and present them to your school’s heads; note that your team will be representing your school – it’s like a sports team (only much more complicated and more interesting). Be prepared to really familiarize yourself with FIRST’s workings and be ready to explain them to school faculty in order to secure support for your team. Find friends who are interested as well and who are ready to commit and collaborate on this enormous undertaking.
Finding Financial Support
After you’ve convinced your school, financial support must be found before anything else can happen. Flesh out your plans for the team in greater detail, prepare a detailed business plan, budget, and maybe a focused power point. Ask the parent community in your area for contacts at corporations that might be interested in sponsoring a robotics team; sending emails, placing phone calls, posting bulletins, or making mention of your needs in the school’s newsletter are few ways to get started. You will probably have to email/call representatives of the companies yourself and tell them about you and your team; they are not going to come to you. Be prepared to answer lots of questions and do not fear rejection; the key to finding sponsors is perseverance! A few sponsors you might try to get ahold of: Google (Google generously supported us during our rookie years) and IDEO; note that companies in the tech industries generally are more interested in supporting robotics teams than, for instance, a clothing retailer or a fast food chain.
Feeding the Team During the Season
Team 1700 has found that the best way to obtain food is through parents and restaurant sponsors. Create a calendar and have parents sign up to bring food on different days and weeks during your kick off meeting. Call restaurants in your area about the possibility of supporting your team.
Companies and colleges are the best places to find mentors. Email alums from your high school who go to school in the area about the possibility of helping you find mentors. Post announcements around college campuses and email parents to see if they can help. Clearly define what kind of assistance you are looking for (e.g. for a build mentor: ability to work in a metal shop, or a programming mentor: great familiarity with CAD, etc.), the timeframe, and how much you can provide in compensation. Often, companies provide mentors instead of monetary support, which is just as helpful.
Finding Parental Support
Find some friends to help you in creating your team and carrying out the challenge; this is imperative – FIRST Robotics is a team effort, and it’s absolutely impossible as a one-man-job. After this, invite team members’ parents to pre-season meetings and kickoff to plan how parents can help. Appoint a lead parent to lead parental support initiatives (typically, our lead parent is a parent of our team head).