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DC BEST unable to generate funds needed to stay afloat

Profile image for By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer
By Britney Tabor / Staff Writer

After 15 years, DC BEST has dissolved.

Bill Stamm, Denton County Boosting Engineering Science and Technology director, said organizers were unable to generate the funds needed to keep the hub afloat and to host another annual competition.

Since 1997, volunteer-based DC BEST, a franchise hub of nonprofit BEST Robotics Inc., has hosted competitions in the fall for area middle school and high school teams that encourage an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teams were tasked with constructing a robot in six weeks that could fulfill a specified task and with keeping notes and designs of the process.

“We’re disappointed that it’s going away, but when you’re getting no money, you can’t put on the competition,” Stamm said. “We’re disappointed that it’s not going to happen this year, but we’re stuck. We can’t do anything about it.”

Fundraising efforts for the 2013 contest began at the beginning of the year. Stamm said organizers set a goal to raise $8,000.

“We started in January sending out letters, making contacts and basically came up with zero,” he said. “We got no responses whatsoever.”

In a final attempt to raise funds, Stamm said, the hub turned to the website Crowdtilt in May.

“About the first week in June it was obvious we weren’t going to be able to make the goal,” he said. “That was our last desperate try to get money, and it just didn’t go.”

In a month’s time, $1,300 was pledged for the DC BEST effort, but because the group was unable to reach its $8,000 goal in a 30-day time frame, individuals who pledged funds were not charged, Stamm said.

DC BEST hosted its last contest in October at the University of North Texas Coliseum, and 14 teams competed.

For 13 years, Laurence McClendon, an engineering technology and architecture teacher at Denton High School, had students compete in DC BEST. For more than five years he’s served on the hub’s board. He said for students who didn’t fit in with other programs, DC BEST gave them an outlet and a hands-on project. Often, a team from DC BEST would go on to be among the top 10 in the Texas BEST competition. Several students depended on DC BEST, McClendon said.

“I really miss it, and I know the kids are going to miss it. It’s a sad day,” he said. “I just hate to see it go, but it’s just one of those things where the economy got to us.”

Costs to support the competition averaged between $10,000 and $12,000, according to organizers. Stamm said about $1,800 was collected for the competition in 2012, but a majority of the money supporting the contest came out of the pockets of board members, who spent about $6,000 last year. The UNT College of Engineering also contributed $3,000 to the effort supporting Coliseum expenses and other materials last year.

Board members did not have the money to support the competition for another year, which left DC BEST “high and dry,” Stamm said.

For years, DC BEST has struggled to drum up support for its annual competition.

Labinal — formerly Boeing — in Corinth was the major sponsor for DC BEST for several years but eventually withdrew its support. At one point, UNT also sponsored the event, but in 2005 announced it would have to withdraw its sponsorship. That year, several corporate groups and some local businesses stepped up to fund the effort.

But over the years, support has dwindled and the hub has struggled to retain sponsors, Stamm said.

Like any business unable to generate the revenue to stay afloat, DC BEST was forced to dissolve, according to a board member.

“The community did not show enough interest,” said Miguel Garcia-Rubio, a DC BEST board member and associate dean for outreach and international relations with the UNT College of Engineering.

Tom Fitzmaurice, BEST Robotics Inc. executive director, said teams that previously competed in the DC BEST contest have been offered slots to compete in other hubs including the Collin County, Dallas and Cowtown hubs. He said it’s unfortunate DC BEST is dissolving, but that he’s hopeful the hub will be reconstituted and reactivated sometime in the future.

Stamm said DC BEST physical assets have been transferred to hubs that have taken in the teams that once competed in the Denton County area.

It’s unknown if DC BEST will ever be revived, he said. The necessary funding to support the hub would have to be in place, Stamm said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.