Economic Development and Technology

Grand Rapids sees grand expansion

Founded in Detroit, Grand Circus offers 10-week software coding bootcamps.

September 30, 2016
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Judging by the name, Grand Circus seems like a perfect fit for Grand Rapids. Judging by the region’s accelerated growth in software development and IT services, Grand Rapids seems like a perfect fit for Grand Circus, as well.

Founded in Detroit in early 2013, Grand Circus is a software development training agency focused on addressing the talent gap between supply and demand for software engineers in the state of Michigan. Through its 10-week coding bootcamps, Grand Circus educates on the skills and tools necessary to begin a successful career in software development. This month, Grand Circus is hosting its inaugural bootcamp outside of Detroit in Grand Rapids, the first step in expanding into West Michigan.

“The thing that we’re really passionate about and what motivates us is the idea of playing this role regionally to help Michigan transition from a manufacturing past into a more service-based IT future,” Grand Circus co-founder and CEO Damien Rocchi said. “Grand Rapids is a place we’ve wanted to be for a long time.”

Grand Circus’ first West Michigan bootcamp, the .NET Developer Bootcamp, will train students in enterprise development fundamentals, such as .NET, Visual Studio, SQL databases and designing object-oriented programs.

“We try to replicate the real world of software developers as well as we can,” Rocchi said.

Currently, Grand Circus is evaluating applicants for its inaugural bootcamp, slated to begin Oct. 24. Most classes are made up of about 15 to 20 students and are full time and wholly immersive, with two weeks of offsite learning and eight weeks in class. Grand Circus has arranged to hold class at Davenport University’s downtown campus for the time being, with the intention of establishing a Grand Rapids office in the next year.

Rocchi said the time was right to expand, and Grand Rapids was a natural choice as the second largest metropolitan statistical area in Michigan.

“The demand for our services has really accelerated, we’ve been getting more and more interest in our model, so we had to react at some point,” he said. “And we’re generally committed to Michigan, that’s our market. Grand Rapids has a really engaged group of employers, and a number of companies that want to hire our talent.”

Grand Circus boasts in four years in Detroit, 92 percent of its bootcamp graduates have found entry-level software development positions within three months of completing the program.

In Detroit, Grand Circus typically runs about five or six bootcamps concurrently and will graduate between 275 and 300 students this year. In expanding to the West Michigan market, the company will run the first bootcamp by itself, with plans to start the next bootcamp in early 2017.

Rocchi said Grand Circus spent a lot of time engaging with companies, determining what they’re looking for in their entry-level hires and building a curriculum around that information. He’s been meeting with employers in the region and said the response has been quite encouraging.

“It’s been a really warm reception, and that’s what’s been exciting for us,” he said. “It sort of validates the timing for us; it just feels like the market is welcoming and ready for our project.”

One of the tenets of Grand Circus’ bootcamps is a focus on improving the dearth of diversity in the technology field. Operating with the belief the technology industry should reflect the community it serves, Grand Circus has made diversity a priority — classes in Detroit comprise about 39 percent female students and 37 percent minority students.

“The role that we’d like to play here, as well as one we play in Detroit, is sort of this agent of bringing more of those people into tech careers,” Rocchi said. “And it’s not just the right thing to do, but I think it makes business sense, because you’re bringing more people into the profession.”

Rocchi said recently that Grand Circus kicked off its DEVELOP(her) program, a free coding bootcamp for women. Through various sponsorships, Grand Circus was able to provide the bootcamp free of charge to students, and via a partnership with the Michigan Council of Women in Technology, connect graduates with a mentor in the field to help them advance their careers.

The Michigan Council of Women in Technology recently expanded into the region, and Rocchi said Grand Circus is hoping to grow the DEVELOP(her) program in West Michigan in the next year.

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