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Co-op Rock Stars: How The Starter League is Building Web Entrepreneurs


Gov. Pat Quinn stops by a class at The Starter League in 1871 last May. Source: The Starter League
When signing up for a beginner HTML & CSS class at Chicago coding school The Starter League last November, Mike Adeleke missed a line on its website:

“Bring a toothbrush, you might not be leaving for a while.”
And he didn’t – especially the weekend before Demo Day, the pinnacle of the 11-week program where students present their final projects. The 20-year-old Chicago native and an Australian student holed up in their 24/7 classroom at Chicago’s tech hub, 1871, and bounced business ideas off each other until three in the morning. A four-hour nap later, and they were up again coding.
“It was intense,” said Adeleke, who is now taking his project to the 2013 Chicago Lean Startup Challenge. “It really helps you to not only do coding but to get going on starting a business.”
That sense of empowerment is what co-founders Mike McGee, 25,and Neal Sales-Griffin, 24, said they want for all their students. Their coding school offers quarterly full-time immersion programs on web app design for $2,000 to $8,000 per course, where students attend classes one to three days a week and spend up to 60 hours on homework and projects.
The school is also rolling out a web design pilot program this month to train 16 teachers from the Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges of Chicago and to help them develop coding curriculum for their students. And a new nine-month program kicks off in September to walk students through the web product development process and connect them with industry leaders like Harper Reed.

To McGee, the mission of The Starter League is personal – he and Sales-Griffin know exactly how intimidating it can be to dive into a sea of codes for the first time.
Sales-Griffin quit his job at a venture capital firm in 2010 – just a year after graduating from Northwestern University – to develop his own software to solve social problems. He invited McGee, his college friend and a graduating NU senior at the time, to join him. During the next 12 months, the pair devoured every online and offline resource they could find about web app design – online tutorials, hardcover books, hackathons and meet-ups – while working part time at NU and surviving on ramen.

They wished there was a place for coding newbies like themselves to learn the ins and outs of web development from scratch – so they built their own school.

The Starter League welcomed its first batch of 35 students in fall 2011 and has since helped about 650 students worldwide learn coding and web app design. Though the school teaches cutting-edge technology, the founders are traditional with their teaching method to ensure students have all the support they need.
 
“You are being dedicated in-person, serious about your education, surrounded by other people who care about learning,” McGee said. “That’s what we didn’t have when we were teaching ourselves for a year.”
Its startup focus also sets The Starter League apart from other coding classes, said Ryan Francis, 25, who moved from Ohio to Chicago this spring for the school’s web development class.
“The atmosphere is pretty young,” he said. “There are a lot of just very entrepreneurial-type of people that go into the program. Everyone has an idea they are trying to build.”
With its self-starting, bootstrapping spirit, The Starter League gained Gov. Pat Quinn’s attention and attracted funding from Chicago’s 37 Signals, marking the first time the web app powerhouse invested in another company.
“We’re all about the bleeding edge and helping people learn what’s up with the world today,” McGee said.
For more about The Starter League and other CIW Co-op rock stars, visit The Cooperative.
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Written by: Jia You

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