SiliconHouse is home to a rotating cast of entrepreneurs, many from Europe and Asia, who've decided that the best way to launch or propel their technology companies is to come to the center of the innovation universe and see how it's done.
"I came here with a blank page, an idea for a startup," says François Dispaux, a serial entrepreneur from Belgium with a cloud-based project management tool, "and I will leave with a startup and contacts and validation from Silicon Valley. And that's really amazing."
This is no animal house, or even a geek house of nocturnal programmers surviving on pizza and Red Bull. SiliconHouse has an organized three-week program that brings in entrepreneurs, tech lawyers, investors and professors to cover topics from innovation to immigration for each class of startup hopefuls. Each visitor, and there are usually eight to 10 staying at the four-bedroom house, is given a tailored itinerary of people to meet, companies to visit and events to attend. In between that sprint, the housemates gather in the home's living and dining rooms to talk shop and eat gourmet meals prepared by Silicon House co-founder Andrea Litto, a chef and caterer.
Maybe it's no surprise that the house was launched by Litto, who came to the United States from Brazil, and two other Brazilians who remember a certain sense of aimlessness when they arrived in the United States.
"When we first got here, we faced several issues, several problems," says Henrique Setton, 31, who came to study at Stanford while running a website that sought to share the secrets of Silicon Valley with other Brazilians. "As entrepreneurs, we had trouble finding interested people to talk to, potential partners, and understanding the ecosystem of Silicon Valley."
At the same time Litto, 38, who was married to a valley engineer, was noodling with the idea of running something of a boarding house, where she could deploy her considerable talents as a chef and party host. Enter Raquel Costa, 40, a Web entrepreneur who had connections to Setton and Litto and helped cross-pollinate their ideas about building a residential business community. The eventual result was SiliconHouse, which launched in the fall of 2012.
The place is Silicon Valley in a petri dish: It grew out of networking, the valley's sport of choice. It involves people from all over the world and relies on the willingness of those who know how things are done to share their expertise. The valley is a place that knows that success not only breeds success; it also breeds potential customers, partners, acquisition targets, investors or investments.
"It's a startup trying to help startups, which is a great representation of the Silicon Valley spirit," says William Santana Li, a recent Silicon House resident and CEO of Knightscope, a San Jose company working on using robotics to gather data that can be stored and crunched. Li learned of Silicon House through his friend Litto and her husband, and he says he's been acting as a senior adviser as well as learning from the program.
By day, you can find business minds sprawled on couches or perched on stools at the kitchen counter, brows furrowed, MacBooks glowing, wheels turning. Sure there are house rules about kitchen etiquette and such, but the serious rules are posted over the fireplace: "Amaze yourself;" "Live your life with abandon;" "Be Legendary;" "Seize the moment." By night, there are the scrumptious meals and the spoon feeding of valley wisdom.
Dispaux and Li were members of the most recent Silicon House class. In all, 56 entrepreneurs have come through the seven live-in sessions the house has hosted for startup founders. Besides Belgium and Brazil, startup founders have visited from China, Australia, Germany, and Japan, Setton says, rattling of a partial list of the United Nations that has participated in the program. And roughly 10 to 15 percent of the program's participants have come from the United States, because, after all, Silicon Valley can seem like a foreign land for those not familiar with its ins and outs.
"The culture in Silicon Valley is different from anywhere in the U.S.," Setton says.
Each entrepreneur pays $3,600 for food, lodging, education and the intangibles that are hard to put a price on. Ozana Giusca is a Romanian living in London, who's developed a suite of management and analytics applications for small businesses. She came to Silicon House in the hopes of finding a U.S.-based co-founder and ultimately investors. One of the first things she learned through Silicon House was that her standard elevator pitch was fine for a European crowd, but that U.S. investors expect something different.
"Now I have an American pitch," she says, "which is much more punchy and direct and much less blah, blah, blah."
And really, there is nothing worse than blah, blah, blah -- especially when there is so much business to do. The next set of entrepreneurs arrives in August.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.