Entrepreneurs, small business workers and students will have the chance to learn about startups and contribute to Placer County’s economy this spring when Sierra College and Hacker Lab open their new co-working and making space.
The 3,500-square-foot space on Granite Drive in Rocklin, set to open early May, features design computer stations, a 3D printer and a fully-equipped textile lab. Sierra College students, faculty and staff can RSVP online to purchase a membership once the space opens. Monthly membership fees range from $12.50 for Sierra College students to $99 for other community members, allowing them to access the center’s equipment and special meetups.
Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director of the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies at Sierra College, says the partnership was a good fit for the school. The off-campus location, in particular, is important for Rocklin’s business community, she says.
“It means the college isn’t being insular,” she says. “We are expanding out into the community and embracing the community.”
Pepper-Kittredge says Hacker Lab helps people put their technical skills to use in a collaborative environment. Sierra College hopes to replicate those principles in Placer County with both students and businesses, she says.
“There’s more than one way to work, and maker spaces have found some traction there,” Pepper-Kittredge says. “It’s sometimes difficult for businesses to interact with us (on campus). Having a coworking space allows the two groups to mix in organic ways.”
According to marketing consultant Karen Fraser-Middleton, who works with Sierra College, collaborating with Hacker Lab allows the college to focus on economic development for Placer County. The partnership will draw innovators to the area, who can connect with others in Hacker Lab and Sierra College and form startups, she says.
“The perfect elements of a collaborative innovation are already here,” she said. “They just need a place to connect.”
According to Fraser-Middleton, the county is an ideal location for a maker and coworking space because of its connection with Sierra College and its developing high-tech and software sectors.
Hacker Lab has also had success in facilitating startups. In 2013, 13 companies used Hacker Lab to launch their businesses, resulting in $2.5 million in projected revenue and 34 new employees and contractors, according to the Next Economy Capital Region Prosperity Plan.
“With about 19,000 students at Sierra College, those who develop desirable business and technical skills on campus and at Hacker Lab are more likely to find meaningful employment,” Fraser-Middleton says.
Hacker Lab will operate the facility and, according to Sonja Lolland, Sierra College’s dean of business and technology, Sierra College clubs that specialize in technical subjects can use the space for their activities with their student membership.
“This gives them a place to go and have their meetups, club meetings and competitions,” Lolland says. “They’re not constrained by the facilities here at Sierra (College).”
Sierra College does not currently have enough space on campus for a coworking and maker lab, Lolland points out, and students can benefit from 24/7 access, which they can’t get on campus.
According to Hacker Lab co-founder Gina Lujan, the partnership allows Hacker Lab, which opened in 2012 with its midtown space, to “grow exponentially” and establish itself more broadly as a regional organization.
“Because of the needs in this region and how passionate our community is, especially our volunteers, Hacker Lab has taken on a life of its own,” she says. She adds that Sierra College’s technological donations, such as new software and a computer lab, have already drawn new members to the Rocklin location.
“We’re really working on educational platforms, and being able to have more tools and resources to help support the innovation in our commercial community,” says Lujan. “The textiles will be snazzy. People talk about going back and forth and utilizing different tools. It will be interesting to see how these cities cross-pollinate.”
Ideally, the partnership will lead to businesses “bursting out of their shop,” Pepper-Kittredge says. In the future, Sierra College hopes to open a bigger coworking space on campus.
“(We) have a long-term vision of building a large facility … that would house a larger makerspace, a business incubator and our workforce development programs,” Lolland says. “The work group hopes to take what it learns from the Granite Drive location and continue to work on this.”
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Casey Marshall is hunched over his phone, furiously scrolling through his Twitter feed in search of a photo of Waste Management’s promotional robot, whose broken axle he fixed back in March. “Someone came into the Hacker Lab and needed his robot repaired,” he says, grinning, “and I was like, ‘I gotta do that.’”
When Hacker Lab outgrew 800 square feet on Franklin Boulevard last year, the founders needed more than additional space. They needed a change of scenery.