Code Academy Teaches Web Development to the Masses

The black-owned startup is schooling entrepreneurs on the art of coding from the ground floor of Chicago's new 50,000 sq. ft. coworking facility

Code Academy founders Mike McGee and Neal Sales-Griffin flank their first instructor, Jeff Cohen (Image: Source)

The support and connections the two made landed Sales-Griffin an offer to work on the re-election campaign for President Barack Obama. Faced with a difficult decision, the startup’s chief executive (and subsequently the whole Code Academy team) passed on the opportunity; instead, seeing Code Academy through to the end.
After all of their promising leads fell through, the pair decided to bootstrap the startup with tuition from their users.  They polished their website and opened their doors. The founders only wanted 12 students for that first semester, but ended up with over 80 applications from people from various industries and backgrounds. They interviewed over 40 applicants and accepted 35 students. “Meeting those people, who we knew were out there…was the best week of my life,” McGee said.

The connections the young entrepreneurs made along the way provided them with the opportunity to rent space in Groupon’s headquarters, where they held their first classes. They found their first instructor, Jeff Cohen, who was teaching development classes part time, through the Twitterverse. Similarly, a meeting with Steve Collens, senior vice president of Chicago’s most popular philanthropy, The Pritzker Group, and its investment arm, New World Ventures, landed them as the first tenant in the brand-spanking-new facility.

While still on the ground floor of their own startup, they have received requests from others to emulate their model in different locations around Chicago and throughout the country. Future plans include reaching out to youth, the economically disadvantaged, and minorities to provide coding, development and design opportunities.

Up to this point, Code Academy still hasn’t taken a dime from investors.  “Our model went from taking investments to bootstrapping,” said McGee. “We went from no money to $200,000 in one week. It was a liberating feeling to know the people who are investing in us were the students. It’s the perfect relationship.”

Now, in its third season, the Code Academy offers a wide range of classes, support and mentorship so other entrepreneurs can get the tools and resources they need to go out and, possibly, attend traditional accelerators and incubators. “We see ourselves as the accelerator before the accelerator.”

Additional reporting by Marcia Wade Talbert

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