How to Start a Free Geek

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Here at Free Geek in Portland, Oregon, USA, we get a lot of requests from people who want to start a Free Geek. Many are folks that are organized, dedicated, have a completely clear and accurate picture of what they're about to embark upon. Some are folks that stayed up too late, drinking highly caffeinated carbonated beverages. (Most are somewhere in between.)

Since Free Geek is an important part of our community, we take the Free Geek name very seriously. ("Free Geek" is a registered trademark in the USA, and a trademark is being pursued in Canada.) It is important for us to know that "Free Geek" means something wherever you might go, so we have a process to determine whether a potential Free Geek will likely work out or not.

With that in mind, here are some pointers:

  1. You should be 100% you know what a Free Geek is. It may be more complex than you think. Visit the What is a Free Geek? page.
  2. Read the Should I Start a Free Geek page. There are many situations where starting a Free Geek is not the right idea, and it's best to review them.
  3. Connect up with us. Join the startup email list. There's a page for doing that at
  4. Review the documents that already exist. You're on the right track starting with this page, and all the links that come from this page.
  5. Ask questions. The startup list is a good place, so is IRC, or you can call us.

It's never to soon to do these things

  • Visit an existing Free Geek. (There's a list of them on our website, though not all have space or regular business hours.)
  • Join the startup list.
  • Ask questions about how things could be done.
  • Ask others to help out. A lot of folks might want to.
  • Pop in to our IRC channel.

Don't do these things yet

Don't set up a domain or website (yet).
That would involve using the name Free Geek (and you need to get our approval first).
Don't incorporate using the name Free Geek (yet).
That would involve using the name Free Geek (and you need to get our approval first).

You need to get permission to use the name Free Geek before you can do any of the above. Getting permission means demonstrating that you understand what a Free Geek is and what you're getting yourself into when you set one up.

Don't use the name "Free Geek" as if you are already a Free Geek.
It's fine to say you're trying to start one up. Point people to our website if they have questions you can't answer.

Got it?

If you've read all the above, including everything that is linked (and several of the pages linked from those links) then you might have a grasp of what a Free Geek is and whether you likely have the resources to pull it off. If you have any questions, re-read the documents, post questions on the startup list, ask on IRC, or give us a call.

If you think you're ready to go ahead, it's time to review the application process. The overview can be found in the Trademark application flow chart. But you'll want a more detailed set of steps to start you out so look at the Applicant Path, Part 1 flow chart and make sure you've gone through those steps.

Remember to ask on the startup list for an invitation to apply when the chart indicates you should. The application process will take a while, but if you've done your homework, it shouldn't be too long before you can start using the Free Geek name.

Remember, at any point, you can decide that you'd rather not be a Free Geek and instead do something different (using a different name).


Are there people that can explain how things are done at Free Geek in Portland?
Sure! Join the startup email list and ask questions.
How do we set up a corporation? How do we set up our bylaws? How do we apply for our 501(c)(3) with the IRS?
We can't help you 100%, but we can tell you what we did and provide our documents. Email the startup email list to ask for this help.
Can we use your 501(c)(3)?
At this point, no. We are legally able open up other chapters of Free Geek anywhere in the US, but we don't have the time or energy to pursue those options right now.
Could you give us some leads on where to apply for grants?
Possibly, but it's a long shot. Send inquiries to the startup list.
How do you make your money?
Surprisingly (to many people anyway) most of our money does not come from grants. Money comes from individual donations when people drop of equipment, sales of reconditioned hardware in our thrift store, online, or to wholesalers, from the sale of scrap material, and also from grants. See Financial Overview for more information on how we earn and spend money.