By Anna Alonso Olcese | Photography by Cindy Taylor
Join us each issue for an innovative series, venturing through the development of HackerHouse – where eight engineering geniuses will live, eat and create under the guidance of eight stellar mentors to create prototypes ready for commercialization in under three months.
On May 6, the inaugural class of cadets moves into HackerHouse. They are a diverse troop, bringing various talents and personalities to the table. An equally diverse group of mentors, dubbed captains, joins them on the adventure.
Captains, handpicked by HackerHouse founder Augi Lye, have extensive experience as entrepreneurs and community leaders, enabling them to guide the cadets through the arduous process of taking an idea from conceptualization to commercialization.
“We have an ‘A’ list of captains,” said Lye, who is an avid Star Trek fan and chose the term “captains” to further tie in all HackerHouse-related things to the sci-fi franchise.
In reality, Lye – a programmer, inventor and successful entrepreneur – could singlehandedly guide the cadets. Nevertheless, he wanted to present them with a team of advisers who would share their expertise, experiences and time—and provide various perspectives regarding entrepreneurship, what it takes to succeed and how to make it happen.
Augi Lye: Lye, a serial entrepreneur, is the founder and inventor of ToneRite and Trendy Entertainment. As a computer programmer who has “made it” in Gainesville, and a big proponent of the budding tech town, he strives to expand the local computer engineering community by keeping both emerging local talent and recruiting outside talent through projects such as HackerHouse.
- Most Essential Quality of a Cadet: Drive
- Star Trek Persona: Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Amir Rubin: One evening, as Amir Rubin and Lye were enjoying their customary single malt scotch, Lye leaned in toward Rubin and said, “I have a crazy idea.” Rubin promptly replied, “Good sir, I’m in.” If nothing else, his immediate response demonstrated Rubin’s friendship, trust and support of Lye—and his own willingness to venture into the unknown.
“I’m completely addicted to the adrenaline-fueled chaos of early stage startup life,” Rubin said.
Rubin co-founded Prioria Robotics in 2003 when he was a senior at the University of Florida. For the past decade, he has designed and coded dozens of software systems and products. Additionally, he has consulted with engineering design and manufacturing firms across the country and has observed how things are done at various levels.
Despite his extensive experience, he still considers himself a beginner.
“I’m always meeting engineers and programmers whose skill is something I can only aspire to,” Rubin said.
He is a member of Gainesville Hackerspace and has helped organize two hackathons in town.
- Most Essential Quality of a Cadet: A Need to Create. “Hackers must have an insatiable need to create things.” Rubin said. “Hackers are makers. All great startups revolve around making things that haven’t been done before.”
- Star Trek Persona: Captain Picard (perhaps Lye is in for some friendly competition!)
He also is a lifelong hacker who sold his first software product to a company at the age of 14. “Hacker,” he clarifies, simply means a person who loves tinkering with things and who acquires skills through constant experimentation and learning. The other meaning of the word is a person who breaks into computer systems.
“I have been both. I was a professional computer hacker, but I was one of the good guys,” von Kleist said. “I got paid to break into computer systems and tell the owners how to fix the holes before the bad guys found them.”
In 2009, von Kleist co-founded Gainesville Hackerspace. Since then, Hackerspace has hosted dozens of events, enabling hundreds of smart, likeminded people to develop a community.
“When Augi told me about his idea to have a live-in startup program, I thought it was the most amazing incubator idea I’d ever heard,” he said. “I jumped at the chance to become a mentor.”
A master of programming on a tight schedule, von Kleist said he will help cadets discover the shortest path to their goals and stay on track amid distraction.
- Most Essential Quality of a Cadet: Acceptance of Imperfection. “To succeed in startups, [hackers] have to understand that it is better to get feedback early on rather than to try to achieve perfection on the first try,” von Kleist said. “They also have to trust that negative feedback is not failure; failure is giving up instead of changing direction.”
- Star Trek Persona: Data
Perry worked in an academic research environment before launching a startup. There, he learned to tackle technical engineering problems in the context of the customer’s experience and, thereby, deliver a marketable solution that made sense and provided value. As a startup founder, he feels fortunate to have had access to extraordinary mentors, advisers and cheerleaders.
“I want to pass on what I have learned,” Perry said.
When Lye announced his plan for HackerHouse during a casual get-together with fellow entrepreneurs, Perry was immediately impressed with the concept.
“Programs such as Y Combinator have proven the model of bringing innovators together and molding them into successful startups,” Perry said. “The opportunity that HackerHouse presents to its cadets – freeing innovators to innovate – is an opportunity for the entire community.”
He compares it to SEC football—a great experience all season with someone bound to win the National Championship.
- Most Essential Quality of a Cadet: Effective Communication Skills. “I expect cadets to be able to communicate their ideas, but also to listen and absorb the input of customers, partners, investors and mentors,” Perry said. He cautions that to make communication effective and the cadet successful, he or she must be able to filter, reduce and focus all of those ideas flying around into a brilliant stroke of innovation and a confident plan.
- Star Trek Persona: Uncommitted to one in particular, Perry said that we all can get behind Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.
Kristen Hadeed: Kristen Hadeed founded Student Maid about five years ago when she was an undergrad at UF. The company has grown to become one of Florida’s leading cleaning and concierge services and today employs more than 350 students throughout the state. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Gainesville, Hadeed serves as a mentor for various groups, including her employees. She recently launched Student Maid University, as well as a tech company that is creating an app for the service industry.
When Lye approached her about being a mentor for HackerHouse, she didn’t think twice.
“The only reason I am where I am today is because I have fantastic mentors,” Hadeed said. “I feel like it’s my job now to give back as much as I can to our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Aside from looking forward to mentoring the cadets, Hadeed said she is even more excited to learn from them.
“We are talking about superstars here,” she said. “I am lucky to have the opportunity to be around such talented people.”
- Most Essential Quality of a Cadet: Willingness to Fail. Hadeed stresses that failing is a part of innovating. Failures can lead to opportunities despite the biggest setbacks and obstacles. “We’ve been told that the entrepreneurs average 3.8 failures before they make it ‘big time,’” she said. “Persistence is what keeps them going.”
- Star Trek Persona: None at the moment—although she’s likely to have one by the conclusion of this first voyage.