Lye, who is an accomplished entrepreneur and founder of several Gainesville-based companies including Trendy Entertainment, is transforming a mansion in the Duckpond into a place 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. After three months, the eight programmers will move out – one with $50,000 worth of prizes – and a new class of eight will move in.
The idea for HackerHouse came to Lye after observing other incubators in town. He noticed that the fledgling companies often did not have viable prototypes or proper guidance to see them through to commercialization. At HackerHouse, he plans to create an environment where engineering entrepreneurs can develop viable prototypes ready for investors, while also equipping them with mentors who already have “been there, done that” and can steer them through the process. Among the “A-list” mentors committed to HackerHouse are Ken and Linda McGurn, John Spence, Josh Greenberg and Kristen Hadeed.
Lye knows what it’s like in the early stages of a tech company, and he wants to alleviate HackerHouse residents of the financial burdens associated with that time so that they can concentrate on their creations.
“People who are in startups worry about where they will eat and sleep,” Lye said. “HackerHouse relieves them of those worries.”
He compares it with the experiences of the most talented artists and musicians of previous centuries—where they were sponsored by wealthy families or monarchs who provided them with food and shelter so they could solely work on their creative endeavors.
The HackerHouse experience will serve as both a school and a competition for innovators. Eight cadets will occupy the house in three-month increments. Each group of eight is considered a class. They will learn together, have access to the same mentors and resources and compete to win the grand prize.
A self-proclaimed “Star Trek” geek, Lye is incorporating the theme throughout the House. The name “cadets” comes from Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy; mentors are called “captains”; and each room in the house will correspond to a part of the starship Enterprise. He even plans on having cadets wear uniforms.
After they move in, cadets will come up with ideas for viable prototypes, which will be “hacked” together as quickly and cheaply as possible. The financial viability of the prototype will then be examined during the first two weeks. The next seven weeks will be used to develop the actual prototype, and the final three weeks will be dedicated to learning how to market the product, build the company and pitch the idea to potential investors.
Mentors will pick a winner from each class, who will receive thousands of dollars worth of services and perks, including a year at the Founders Pad, free meals at Grooveshark Café, legal and accounting assistance and the support of dozens of local companies.
All cadets will own their creations; however, HackerHouse will retain 6 percent equity stake in startups derived from prototypes, which is industry standard for Y combinators and incubators. Additionally, cadets may receive college credit from UF’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department for participating in the program.
Lye is still seeking angel investors to fund the program, although the top tiers are filling quickly. The investor levels are:
SILVER ANGEL ($600) – evenly share .1 percent pool of one class
GOLD ANGEL ($5,000) – receive .1 percent of one class
PLATINUM ANGEL ($10,000) – receive .1 percent of three classes and have 24/7 access to the HackerHouse. They will assume the title of “Ambassadors” and partake in the mentoring program, which includes daily meals, housing privileges and planning sessions.
“You can be 18 or 80, as long as you’re awesome,” Lye said.