Winner, 2018: NEO Escape Rooms

Gabriel Berzamina & Acme Lee, Owners

In 2018, Gabriel Berzamina & Acme Lee were selected as the grand prize winners of the Calling All Dreamers business competition. We caught up with the first-time entrepreneurs to learn how the competition helped them to jumpstart their business.

How did the idea for NEO Escape Rooms come about?

We were escape room enthusiasts long before we decided to launch NEO Escape Rooms. One night, after playing an escape room and breaking down everything we loved about the experience (and everything we didn’t like), we asked ourselves, “Why don’t we just launch an escape room of our own!?” Thus, the idea for NEO Escape Rooms was born.

What inspired you guys to start your own business?

After falling in love with escape rooms, we realized there was an incredible opportunity in the industry that few owners were actually applying to their existing escape room businesses: designing and building their escape games as platforms for immersive, action-oriented storytelling. In simpler terms, we realized that there was a huge opportunity for higher quality social interaction, immersion, and entertainment that many businesses in the industry have overlooked entirely.


How did you find out about the Calling All Dreamers competition?

We found out about Calling All Dreamers by chance… or maybe by destiny? Gabriel works down the street from Oblivion Comics & Coffee and on a quick coffee break, the owners told him about the competition and encouraged him to check it out. With our business concept already coming to fruition, we decided the competition would get us going in the right direction, whether we won it or not.


Why was it important to have your business be located downtown?

One big reason for us to launch our business downtown is that our escape room stories and games were designed to capture the essence of Sacramento’s rich history and iconic landmarks. Additionally, we’re building our business to appeal to tourists and corporate teams, as well as general entertainment seekers who can appreciate us being centrally located. Lastly, we believe there is a shift taking place downtown, as more and more innovative businesses and organizations plant their flags there, and we want to be a part of the movement!


What was the best thing about winning the CAD competition?

The best part about winning Calling All Dreamers was the incredible community that we built along the way. Our mentors, peers, and supporters rallied together around our efforts and visions for what we wanted to create, and if not for them none of this would have been possible. The competition also pushed us to be more creative, connected, and concentrated than we had ever been. It helped point us in the right direction and gave us the momentum we needed to build our business the right way. And ultimately, winning CAD validated to us that dreams, no matter how big or scary, really can come true.


How did the competition help in bringing your business to life? 

The competition helped bring our business to life by guiding us through the startup process, step by step, pairing us with incredible business mentors and giving us the assignments and deadlines we needed to push harder than we would have otherwise. It also gave us an opportunity to have our business concept and plans be vetted again and again until we reached a point where our plans were highly refined. It’s true, you don’t know what you don’t know. We certainly didn’t, but the competition helped us find answers to the questions we never knew to ask. Lastly, between all the marketing, television spotlights, special events, and published articles, we were able to get our message to an audience that loves what we do.


Describe what people can expect when they walk into NEO Escape Rooms?

NEO Escape Rooms is the Headquarters of the NEO Revolution, led by Revolutionaries from the year 2211. You and your family, friends, or colleagues will be granted a secret mission and it will be up to you to protect Sacramento’s past, present, and future. If you accomplish your mission, the treasures you reap will be oh so sweet. Literally. Like, cookies and candy!
Expect to walk into the future.


What advice would you give someone who is thinking about entering the CAD competition this year? 

The best piece of advice we could give to someone who’s thinking about entering CAD is to stop thinking about it and just go all in! Your business concept will emerge and be refined through the process. If you’re already doing business and have a fairly refined concept, then CAD will help take your current business to the next level. Dive into the competition head first and commit to seeing it through no matter how hard it gets. Push yourself to be more creative, connect frequently with others, and be open to absorbing all the wisdom that your mentors and supporters share with you along the way.


As entrepreneurs, why is it important to dream?

It’s important to dream because our dreams connect us to incredible visions of how our world could be. Dreaming reveals new ways of serving our communities that aren’t yet being provided. In the dream state, there are no limitations. You aren’t confined to societal norms, expectations, fear, or failure. When you dream, the impossible becomes possible, and that’s an entrepreneur’s real work: to make things possible.
Neo Escape Rooms will open this fall at 1124 2nd Street at the Old Sacramento Waterfront. Follow their journey on Facebook.