For every story you've heard about a billionaire technology entrepreneur who started in a garage or a dorm room, there are thousands of tech-minded people looking for a place to set up shop.
Technology savvy does not guarantee business acumen, funding or infrastructure. Most startups need education, mentoring and a workspace.
In Sacramento, such a place is called Hacker Lab.
Hacker Lab, an 8-month-old nonprofit with a goal of nurturing and developing technology startups, recently moved from comparatively closet-size digs into a high-ceiling, 10,500-square-foot space at 1715 I St.
There, Director Gina Lujan and co-founders Charles Blas and Eric Ullrich rent out office and desk space, provide educational courses and consulting help, and sponsor community networking events for technology startups. The hopefuls include Sacramento-area software and hardware developers, Web designers and various fledgling technology ventures.
Hacker Lab will formally open in mid-October a lot of wall painting, furniture moving and other activities are occurring during the ongoing soft opening but it has already accumulated some 300 members, 20 regular tenants and a half dozen "founding" anchor tenants who believe in it enough to help pay the rent.
For Lujan, it's not her first rodeo. She was part of a similar startup incubator in the Bay Area, but she wanted to return to her hometown and reach out to prospective tech startups in the region.
"The community response has been incredible," she said. "The energy level is very high. We all have busy lives, but we love doing this."
Blas, who signed on after meeting over coffee with Lujan, agrees: "We're sharing space with like-minded people. Sacramento needs a place like this."
Hacker Lab started small.
In July, it was operating out of 850 square feet on Franklin Boulevard. The 10,500-square-foot space at 17th and I streets was about three times bigger than what Lujan was seeking, but she liked the wide-open space and the potential for filling it up.
Lujan said she made the leap primarily because Hacker Lab's anchor tenants "stepped up" and made financial commitments to pay for leasing the commercial space.
"It was a huge help. They helped get us in here," she said.
One of those anchors was David Long, who splits time between his Sacramento home and an investment company in San Francisco.
"They've got a pretty clear vision of where they want to go, and they're gathering energy at an incredible pace," Long said. "When crunch time came and they needed a little more money, I was glad to help.
"I've always been interested in these kinds of spaces. I used to work in the computer industry, but I'm also looking for promising new companies, in the most germinal state possible."
Like other technology entities, Hacker Lab has its share of whimsical attitude.
Lujan said her tenants liked the I Street office site in part because of its proximity to coffee, food and beer. Lujan's business card includes the title "happiness engineer." The website lists "Chief of Cool" as one of Blas' duties.
Yet Hacker Lab is decidedly serious about its goals, which include job creation in the Sacramento area.
"We're finding creative, employable people for hire," Ullrich said.
And with shared expertise among members and anchor tenants, Hacker Lab says it's preparing entrepreneurs for the sometimes rough-and-tumble technology industry.
Mike Smith, a Bay Area technology consultant, said it's not uncommon for young tech entrepreneurs to get in over their heads.
"One of the best examples is copyright infringement, which is a big deal in the industry," Smith said. "You could have the next big idea and start rolling it out, but one day somebody says, 'Hey, that's my idea. I had that first,' and you get slapped with a lawsuit.
"A lot of (tech entrepreneurs) never think of anything like that, not until they have to defend themselves and present all their developmental evidence If you have a mentor who shows you the ropes before something like that happens to you, you're ahead of the game."
One of Hacker Lab's primary outreach tools is the "hackathon," sometimes called a hackfest. That's a scheduled gathering of technology entrepreneurs, mentors and experts, typically resulting in startup partnerships, turbocharged networking and software development.
Ullrich said the next major hackathon is set for Nov. 10, and the nonprofit ultimately wants to have monthly hackfests of various sizes.
Hacker Lab is actively seeking corporate sponsors. Lujan said Sacramento-based StreamSend, an email marketing service provider and creator of the social marketing tool suite StreamSend Share, is on board, and she's hopeful of eventually raising enough money to help provide the basics.
"Having staff, for example, would be great," she said with a laugh.
Ultimately, Hacker Lab's co-founders envision their cavernous warehouse space being filled with bustling private offices and equipment for printing, electronics, woodworking, metalworking, soldering and circuit board printing.
Lujan also wants to expand technology education classes, reaching out to middle school through college levels, and find more community-based mentors. A formal business plan is being drawn up to pitch to businesses and prospective tech entrepreneurs throughout the Sacramento area.
"This is a great area with talented people. We have great community resources for business development," Lujan said.
HACKER LAB AT A GLANCE
The concept: A Sacramento nonprofit fostering development of technology startups by providing on-site rental of office and desk space, educational courses, consulting help and community networking events called hackathons. Location: More than 10,000 square feet of office space at 1715 I St., Sacramento.
Management: Started in February, Hacker Lab is directed by Sacramento native Gina Lujan and co-founders Charles Blas and Eric Ullrich.
Members: About 300, with a general age range from the late 20s to early 40s. Startups include software and hardware developers, coders, programmers and Web designers. Hacker Lab has about 20 regular tenants and a half-dozen "founding" anchor tenants.
What's a hackathon? Sometimes called a hackfest, it's a scheduled event bringing computer programmers, software developers, graphic designers and other technology industry people together to network, educate, socialize or form startup plans. Software creation is typically a hackathon staple.
Next hackathon? Hacker Lab is putting on its next large one on Nov. 10. Ultimately, it wants to put on hackathons of various sizes on a monthly basis.
Future plans: Shared equipment for builders, including 3-D printer, electronics, woodworking, metalworking, soldering and circuit board printing. Expanded technology education classes, reaching out to middle school through college levels. More community-based mentors.
For more information: www.hackerlab.org or (916) 514-7044.