Hacker hostel

PHOTO: Hacker hostel

For these Mark Zuckerberg wannabes looking for their billion dollar idea, the premise of a hacker hostel is simple:

A cheap place to stay, where you can meet like-minded people, discuss ideas and hopefully hit jackpot together in a new start-up.

The concept first sprung up in San Francisco, where young entrepreneurs were initially looking for cheap accommodation while trying to make it big in Silicon Valley.

Several hostels started offering beds to the techpreneurs who were screened to make sure they were able to contribute to the camaraderie and idea-swapping, reported The New York Times last year. Inspired by the idea, three Singaporeans decided to recreate the concept here. Mr Wayne Soh, 26, met the founders of Startup Embassy in San Francisco and was inspired by its bungalow setup. He then started The Enclave with Mr Alan Chua and Mr Mike Zhan.

The premises, which were converted from a shophouse on Clementi Road - near Block 71 in Ayer Rajah industrial estate - boasts a lively start-up community.

As it is a hostel, the accommodation features bunk beds but it is fully air-conditioned with a kitchen stocked with appliances, a washing machine, and of course, wireless Internet access.

The minimum stay at the hostel is a week which costs $200. Monthly rates are $650. Unlike their counterparts in the US, The Enclave has not started pre-screening its guests yet, but may do so if it becomes very popular. Mr Chua also says that the hostel tries to bolster the sharing of ideas among its occupants.

"The management, and sometimes even the tenants, organise regular potluck events where everyone gathers and gets to know each other," he says.

That is when they get comfortable about sharing ideas and are open to receiving constructive criticism, says Mr Chua.

One of The Enclave's former tenants certainly seems to agree that it is a great place if you are developing a start-up idea.

Miss Natalie Ip, 26, who stayed there for a total of two months, says: "I already had the idea of a start-up but I hoped my stay at The Enclave would help me to visualise the idea with regards to marketing material."

She is currently working on a mobile app that provides individuals with hassle-free delivery services.

"I ended up tapping on the expertise of people who eventually helped me design the logo and the mock-up for a pitch," she says.

Miss Ip paid a total of $1,300 for her stay there.

Mr Raymond Chua, a Filipino who owns an interior design firm in the Philippines, is another guest at The Enclave.

He checked into the hostel thinking he would be staying for a week.

"But I found the experience so enriching that I've been here for about four months and have no intention of leaving," he says.

He is in Singapore to explore opportunities to expand his firm here.

He says: "Being from the interior design line, I rarely have a chance to meet people who are good in coding, Web design or app design. But here, it's so easy to get help and advice from people who excel in those areas. I can improve myself this way."

There are now eight guests at The Enclave. While The Enclave is the only for-profit hacker hostel here, another place at the National University of Singapore follows a similar concept.

Called N-House, the residence at Prince George's Park opened in 2011 and houses about 80 undergraduates who have returned from the NUS Overseas College programmes.

The programme allows students to be immersed as interns in start-ups in leading entrepreneurial hubs of the world, including Stockholm and Silicon Valley.

Students here pay weekly rates of $100.

To be housed with other people who are on the same wavelength is a godsend, says 23-year-old undergraduate Cadence Hsien.

After all, it led her to her business partner, Mr Alvin Ng.

She was discussing looking for someone with a coding background for her app when Mr Ng overheard the conversation.

She and another friend, Miss Vanessa Ho, explained their idea to him, and the three of them are now co-founders of Dressily, a start-up that will allow women to browse through their virtual wardrobe on their phones, making it easier to choose an outfit.

The hostel, filled with comfortable couches, is lined with white boards that lends itself to the creative process.

"It is a great atmosphere because everyone has the same goal of looking for that next, big idea. And there is an easy sense of camaraderie here," says Miss Hsien.

"Just a simple conversation between partners can lead to a spontaneous group discussion where ideas are refined," says Mr Ng, 25.

In fact, Mr Nishant Jalgaonkar, 21, knocked on doors for technical advice for his app called Big Spoon -化which allows diners to browse the menu and place orders - and it worked.

"We received help from strangers on how to make our interface more user-friendly and attractive and their suggestions have definitely lifted the app," he says.

Ideas that have borne fruit

These are some of the start-up ideas that have come to fruition after the occupants' stay at hacker hostels.

Miss Cadence Hsien and Mr Alvin Ng (N-House): Dressily Dressily is a fashion social networking app that aims to make dressing up fun again by solving the common problems many women face - not knowing what to wear.

By putting up photos of their clothes onto the app, women can browse through their virtual wardrobe, putting together outfits for future reference.

On top of that, they can also invite friends to help them put together outfits.

Dressily is currently in the development stage and the founders are preparing to release it by the end of the year.

Miss Natalie Ip (The Enclave): Dilivrit Dilivrit is a mobile platform providing individuals and businesses with on-demand, hassle-free delivery services. Busy individuals can get their items picked up and dropped off by a pool of readily available couriers.

A delivery can be arranged and confirmed in less than five minutes, and even tracked real time - on mobile.

The app will be launched in early January.

Mr Nishant Jalgaonkar (N-House): Big Spoon This app serves to soothe frustrations over not being able to get a waiter's attention or experiencing bad service.

With Big Spoon, diners will be able to browse the photo menu and order food directly on their smartphones.

The application also allows diners to request for services in the restaurant and remembers their orders from previous visits.

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