August 29, 2012 By Sarah Rich
Computer programmers and entrepreneurs who are looking to get their startup business off the ground are being invited to Kansas City in a new program that hopes to provide them with a free three-month stay in a host home.
Launched last week, Kansas City Hacker Homes takes a Craigslist-like approach to bringing together the technologically inclined. Much like the hugely popular site for classified ads, the Hacker Homes website allows individuals to either sign up to stay with a host home or to provide a host home. Homeowners interested in becoming a “hacker host” fill out a questionnaire that helps match people together.
The website, conceived by local Web developer Ben Barreth, may provide a lesson in the economics of supply and demand. As of Monday, Aug. 27, five individuals had signed up to provide a host home and 23 hackers/entrepreneurs from across the U.S. and around the world had signed up to find host homes.
The interest from IT entrepreneurs might not be coincidental. “Kansas City’s a great place for bootstrapping a startup because it’s so cheap, the labor market here isn’t oversaturated, we have a centralized location to the U.S., and we have Google Fiber now too,” Barreth said. “A lot of those things are all very attractive for startups.” Barreth’s website also mentions that Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., engage in tax break “border wars” in order to attract businesses to their respective sides of the state line.
The future availability of Google Fiber — the company’s grand business experiment that will offer one gigabit connectivity and Internet-based TV service across Kansas City and in select surrounding communities — undoubtedly is a big draw. Some host homes — but likely not all — will soon be able to provide high-speed Internet connectivity to the individuals being housed.
Google is bringing fiber to the home, and city officials expect economic benefits. “Being a residential deployment, we see big potential for growth in home-based businesses and working from home,” said Rick Usher, Kansas City, Mo.’s assistant city manager. Google isn’t marketing to businesses as yet, and the company hasn’t put forth a “business class” pricing package, Usher said.
Barreth, who won’t be taking pay from the Hacker Homes program, said neither the programmer/entrepreneur nor the host will pay to participate in the program. However, the host is expected to provide free-of-charge living space for three months and pay for the guest’s utilities, including the Google Fiber if the home is connected to it. After the three-month period is over, the hacker is expected to move out but continue to work on the business within Kansas City.
Hacker Homes was launched on the heels of Kansas City’s July announcement about detailed package plans for Google’s service, which the company said will be priced similarly to other Internet service providers but provide much faster connectivity.
Will Work for Fiber
The Hacker Homes program could be a first-of-its-kind initiative for tech startups in the Midwest, but the concept of drawing tech talent away from Silicon Valley and into more rural cities is already happening elsewhere. In one example, Chattanooga, Tenn., and the local business community recently completed a summer program called the Gig Tank. The public-private initiative gave office space and other resources to students and entrepreneurs working on business plans and ventures that leveraged Chattanooga’s 1 Gbps network. A $300,000 prize pool was at stake. A version control and collaboration application for researchers called Banyan was one of the winning “gig apps.”
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