The HackCville initiative occupies an old boarding house on Elliewood Avenue, a street otherwise known as the party district on “the Corner” adjacent to the University of Virginia. HackCville is an entrepreneurial clubhouse for students, and buzzes with wild dreams, startlingly talented students, and diverse projects. In just two short years, Spencer Ingram has rallied U.Va.’s young entrepreneurs, artists, and alumni to create a launching pad for new ideas on Grounds. Ingram has also assembled many leading Charlottesville entrepreneurs to help found the 501c3 non-profit which operates the space, and provide the practical advice, fellowship, and networks to help turn student aspirations into reality.
What is HackCville?
HackCville is an independent, student-run nonprofit that gives graduates and undergraduates the agency to explore self-directed projects outside the classroom. Basically, we are a space for enterprising, creative students at U.Va. Between dynamic employers, successful alumni, and student programming, we create a strong community of learners.
How did it start?
HackCville started in 2012 as an experiment with a small group of alumni and entrepreneurial students. It was simply posed to answer the question, “What are we going to do for these students who are interested in entrepreneurship? They are going into the summer and there are no programs at U.Va. for them.” The alumni involved all expressed the same sentiment – this is what I wish I had as a student.
What was the biggest setback?
The biggest challenge is always financial, but that’s true for everybody. The biggest setback for us in particular, which is also our strength, has been that we live on the frontier of student education. We are eking out a frontier existence, so to speak, and we have to figure things out. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we learn fast, and we do so in collaboration with our stakeholders.
When did you begin to suspect this could be a success?
I knew that HackCville would be a success when students took ownership of it. HackCville occupies a renovated boarding house on Elliewood Avenue, and I knew this project would work when students took charge of unglamorous, essential things like painting the house and maintaining the space. They lead events and stay through the night to work on projects. It belongs to them.
What has been the biggest positive impact you have observed?
For me personally, the biggest positive impact has been seeing students develop confidence that they didn’t have when I first met them. That confidence is the foundation, and it comes through inspiration, education, and activation. At HackCville, students have to do something; they have to take a risk. We give them the support and resources to challenge themselves and to be uncomfortable in a way that is educational.
Have you founded other businesses or initiatives?
I love to initiate small, temporal events that bring people together. I enjoy and I am good at getting people to build confidence by taking little actions, small steps that get them off of a linear mindset. My latest work addresses the tools and experiences to help people discover and build careers they care about.
How do you define Founding?
I am tired of the entrepreneurship buzz that is boxing in what “Founding” means – that it is just startups. Founding means creating a community and a sense of place around an idea. Personally, I am trying to build a lifestyle where I have meaning in my life. Sometimes I have to create things in order to do that. I have to make them happen in the world. That is Founding.
What brought you to Charlottesville, and what keeps you here?
I first came to Charlottesville to attend U.Va. in 2003, but I stayed for the lifestyle Cville afforded in outdoor activities and a surprisingly dense community of creative founders.
What’s next for HackCville?
Whatever Gotham needs us to be.