I/O Labs is a six-year project in the making, with the goal of helping startups grow by filling the critical gaps that have been keeping our nascent entrepreneurial community from soaring. When Founder and CEO Brandon Weber first envisioned a "startup campus" of sorts, it was while walking an actual private school campus in town that was up for sale. He imagined it as a catalyst for startups with community of entrepreneurs with companies of all sizes, much like those that were already gathering at The Urban Hive, a coworking space he owned with his wife, Molly Weber, in Midtown. But the timing was not right and the local startup community was not yet large enough to support such an endeavor. Fast-forward five years and The Urban Hive is bursting at the seems and the city is abuzz with small coworking and maker spaces in its urban core.
But, something was still missing. First, we were lacking a true innovation hub, a large technology and entrepreneurship center that can plant a stake in the ground and act as a lightning rod to convene and catalyze the startup community and attract local and out-of town capital. Such hubs have greatly affected startup ecosystems around the world, and have come to be known as the "infrastructure of startups." Second, the ecosystem needed something beyond the informal education that was seemingly everywhere; it needed professional educators with expertise in such subjects as entrepreneurship, raising funds, marketing, finance, legal issues facing startups, process mapping, and business modeling. Finally, Sacramento needed a true accelerator that would go beyond programming and mentorship to investment as well, to not only help local companies, but attract companies globally.
In 2016, it all came together: A Bay Area investor who had invested in prior projects with Weber agreed to finance a large part of the purchase of a building locally and a local developer was able to put together and complete the purchase on the building that I/O Labs is to call home. Soon after, angel investors and startup attorneys Ryan Norman and Jan Roos became investors and partners in the project, followed by agreements with two venture capital firms, including local fund, Moneta Ventures, to fund startups in the accelerator up to $1.7M in its first year alone. Then, SARTA (the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance), came under the I/O umbrella and became what it now known as the I/O Labs Foundation, the non-profit arm dedicated to growing the ecosystem through education, events, and partnerships.
Shortly thereafter, The California Governor's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship ("GO-Biz") awarded I/O Labs the State "iHub" Designation, tasking it with leading the collaborative efforts of the Sacramento region's technology stakeholder community, partnering with UC Davis, SMUD, VSP, and others. Since then, the City of Sacramento has announced its $10M Innovation Fund that would in part be awarded in RAILS grants totaling approximately $1M per year. Out of 143 applications, I/O Labs was recommended by the Mayor's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship to be the largest recipient. Although it amounts to only a small amount of the overall cost of the project, the grant is essential to gain investor "buy in" on the project and make I/O Labs a reality. I/O Labs will open its doors in 2017.