YouWeb creator Peter Relan saves Hacker Dojo

Last minute $57,000 contribution allows space to go ahead with renovations it needs to stay open

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
September 19, 2012
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2a41

A community center needs to raise a whole bunch of money, or else the city is going to shut it down. They try to raise the money, and just come up short… until, at the very last minute a donor comes in gives them everything they need! Freeze frame on all the smiling faces! It sounds like something out of a bad movie, doesn’t it? But it actually happened this time!

Community center and hackerspace Hacker Dojo has raised the money it needed to stay open, thanks to a last minute contribution of $57,000 by YouWeb creator Peter Relan, it was announced Wednesday.

Hacker Dojo, located in Mountain View, California, had to raise $250,000 for renovations. Though it has until December to be fixed, Hacker needed to have the money available by September in order to get started.

Due to the number of people who were paying subscribers at Hacker Dojo, around 300, the event space, which could only fit around 50 people, needed to be expanded. The facility also needed to be brought up on firecode and handicapped access standards, including wheelchair ramps.

The Dojo raised money two ways: by starting a Kick Starter campaign, and by raising money from corporate sponsors. The Kick Starter goal was met, as was the corporate sponsor goal. Among those who contributed were Microsoft and Google, who each gave $10,000, and Andreessen Horowitz, who gave $20,000. All looked well, until a sponsor, which went unnamed, dropped out, leaving a $57,000 hole.

“It was certainly a nail-biter finish,” Director of Development Katy Levinson said in a statement.

 “We weren’t sure what we were going to do if we didn’t make it. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovations which could not even be started until we could convince the contractors we could cut a check.”

Levinson has been running the fundraising campaign since late January.

In an interview with VatorNews, Relan said he has a long history with Hacker Dojo.

He first became aware of it around four years ago, when it was called SuperHappyDevHouse, and was an event oriented monthly hackathon without a permanent space. He got to know David Weekly, founder of SuperHappyDevHouse, through another founder who was roommates with Ben Savage, creator of spaceport.io, which was incubated by Relan’s company YouWeb.

It’s kind of ironic, Relan said. Back then, they needed a space, but there were so many people that he couldn’t fit them all. Now, all these years later, they had the same problem and he was able to finally help.

Relan saw some articles about the trouble the Dojo was having around three weeks ago, he said, and once he found out that the facility was short, he immediately gave them the money they needed, only two days before the September 1st deadline.

So why did Relan decide to give up his money?

Because, he said, it is a cause close to his heart.

“I consider myself to be a hacker,” he said. “It’s the space I come from, and the one I spend my entire life in.”

"The idea that the world’s largest hacker community would lose its home was unacceptable to me."

There are only two other spaces that foster the same spirit as Hacker Dojo: The Tech Museum in San Jose, where Relan is on the board of trustees, and The Computer History Museum, located in Mountain View, California.

“I’ve been part of preserving two of these spaces,” Relan joked. “I’ll probably wind up saving all three!”

On a more serious note, he said that these institutions are “the heart of Silicon Valley principals," of bringing hackers together, or letting them build their ideas. 

“I am a big believer that these types of institutions capture the spirit of Silicon Valley,” and that is why he fights to preserve them.

Relan is also the creator YouWeb, an incubator website that focuses on founders, instead of teams and ideas. Relan takes each creator from cradle to exit.

He is also the creator of Founder Quorum, a site that Relan uses to provide advice and mentorship to those he cannot work with one on one, by putting up weekly blog posts, giving advice to budding entrepreneurs, as well as answering their specific questions that they submit to him on the website.
(Image source: http://ilovemv.org/)

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