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Named after the year of the Great Chicago Fire, 1871, the 50,000 sq. ft. startup hub in downtown Chicago officially opened its doors last Thursday, ushering in the future of technology in one of Chicago’s oldest buildings, The Merchandise Mart. Now, engineers, designers, developers, entrepreneurs, startups, techies, and students can use the space to begin crafting their dreams, and Code Academy, a 12-week program that teaches non-techies web development, has been the first tenet to “beta- test” the space. Â Even before the grand opening, Code Academy was able to pack the house with over 500 attendees for their first Demo Day.
Launched by two young African-American entrepreneurs, Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee, Code Academy started its third semester with 80 students and three instructors. According to McGee, they should be in the neighborhood of $1 million in revenue by the end of this summer, which is the direct result of about two years of hard work, determination, networking and being told ‘no’ more times than they would’ve preferred.
Northwestern graduates, Sales-Griffin, 24, a business major and McGee, 23, a graphic design and political science major, knew nothing about software development before they founded their tech startup. But they attempted to learn code themselves over a 12-month period, scouring the web for classes, materials, and any resources they could find.
“We really wanted to respect and learn the process [of coding],” said McGee. “So we did that and it was awesome, but it was pretty frustrating at times when you’re stuck trying to learn, and you have no one to turn to, to get help. We spent a year [trying to learn how to code] and it shouldn’t have took this long to get to where we were. So we decided to create an environment where it’s fun to learn, you’re learning around other passionate people, you get taught by a professional instructor, and you have mentors who are professional software developers.”
Thus, Code Academy was born. The initial concept was simple: They wanted to charge 12 students $6,000 to learn how to code in 12 weeks for 12 hours each week. They learned enough to throw together a functional site that would help them drum up some capital to get their idea off the ground. So the visionary duo quit their jobs and spent the summer of 2011 meeting and pitching investors.
Of course, they found a bunch of support along the way, but no capital. “Every time we met with somebody, we were one more email, one more meeting away from getting funded. But that next email or meeting never happened,” recalled McGee.