The Dojo has raised half of the $250,000 it needs to install such things as fire sprinklers and ADA-compliant bathrooms. Much of the funding came from Google, Microsoft, AT&T, Palantir Technologies and and venture capital firm Andreesson Horowitz. The rest may come with a little help from the same place many of the Dojo's members have gone to scrape up cash: Kickstarter.
After launching the campaign on Kickstarter on July 11, the Dojo raised $5,000 from over 100 individuals in two days.
"We're really optimistic and humbled by the support the community has given us," said the Dojo's development director Katy Levinson.
A slew of upgrades to the former industrial building at 140 Whisman Road are required by city and state building codes, including a fire sprinkler system, illuminated fire exit signs, proper staircases and four bathrooms upgraded to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A fire alarm installed earlier this year was the bare minimum needed to remain open temporarily.
The Dojo does hope to see more funds from corporate donors, as much as $100,000, Levinson said. The Dojo's goal on Kickstarter is $30,000.
The challenge of fund-raising for the Dojo may be surprising given how much money flows into the startups that get up and running with help from the Dojo, including media sharing website Pinterest.
"My company is currently profitable and our app has been downloaded almost 3 million times," says Otavio Good, owner of Word Lens, on the Dojo's Kickstarter page. "I'm not sure we would have made it anywhere without help from the Hacker Dojo community and the general Silicon Valley tech community."
"It's a little frustrating because you know there are people who could come in here and make this problem go away," Levinson said. "But that's not how the world works."
It's not that investors haven't expressed interest. It's that most want something in return.
"We've had investors ask, 'Can we invest in Hacker Dojo?" Levinson said. Because usually in Silicon Valley "if you want to help something you take equity in it. But if you invest in a nonprofit you will get a percentage of no profit. That's the hard thing around here."
With the upgrades, the Dojo hopes to re-open two leased spaces totaling over 5,000 square feet but which the city forced them to close last year because of the need for fire safety upgrades. One space will be used for a design lab, the other for events. The Dojo will also be able to stop turning away guests at events, now limited to 50 people.
Despite the smaller space, Levinson said the Dojo membership keeps growing, with record membership dues every month.
"It's just cramped," Levinson said of the space.
Among the rewards offered for their generosity, donors may receive a commemorative power strip, as the fire marshal ordered the Dojo to unplug many of them in a recent visit when he saw two plugged into each receptacle, Levinson said.