The un-college that’s training startup professionals

Story of Startup Institute student: Robert O’Connor

In the spring of 2009, the year after the Tribune Co. filed bankruptcy, Robert O’Connor, a newly graduated journalism student from Roosevelt University, struggled to find a job.

“Everything was bottoming out, the journalism profession was really bottoming out,” said O’Conner.

After he tried various things, including interning at multiple places around the world to build his resume, O’Connor moved back to Chicago. Now, he is enrolled in an eight-week accelerated program as a way to prepare him for the next stage of his career and “get into the startup game in Chicago.”

The tech talent growth rate in Chicago is 25.8 percent from 2010-2013, which is 5 percent higher compared to Silicon Valley, according to the report from CBRE, a global commercial real estate and investment firm. The report scored the 50 largest U.S. markets according to the size of tech talent pools, and ranked Chicago as the 11th fastest growing tech market in the country.

This growth in tech jobs also presents opportunities for nontraditional education institutions like Startup Institute, which trains people with the skills specifically needed to work for startups.

“We are not serving for people to found startup companies, we are looking to provide already existing companies with great talent,” said Martha Buckley, a marketing associate at Startup Institute Chicago.

Similar to a noncredit institution like the General Assembly, Startup Institute offers an eight-week intensive program that prepares people for startup careers with training in areas including: web development, web design, technical marketing, and sales and account management.

“Coding is very binary, you are either right or you are wrong, a lot of the solutions you find involve talking them out and mapping them out, and it is easier to do that with someone there to help you,” said O’Conner.

O’Conner focused his training in the Web-Design track. He said $6,500 tuition is worth the cost because he’ll be able to get personal guidance when learning coding languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

“The ultimate goal for me is landing a job more immediately, more importantly, it is to stay in the ecosystem,” said O’Conner. In addition to gaining the technical skills, the main reason that drew O’Conner’s interest to the program was the opportunity to network and market himself.

“I meet so many amazing people. I am able to do things I would never have been able to do otherwise.” said O’Conner. “It just is a really exciting scene to be in and to see some people who are going to make big companies, or move on to big companies.”

On November 20th, the Startup Institute Open House welcomed hundreds of professionals from various fields who gathered at the Chicago LinkedIn office.

“You can just network with people like this event, and meet more people, getting contacts, getting ideas from that, and eventually do your own thing,” said Michael McLaughlin, developer of the startup company Specless.

While it is important to have the networking opportunity, Gerry Licea, Practice Manager at Cicero Medical, said he wouldn’t prepay the $6,500, but he’ll consider the a la carte option to pay a small fee to test out the program.

“There are other institutes that offer coding programs,” said Licea.

“The competition seems fierce these days. Again, even if your job description excludes actual programming or coding,” Licea said it would still be useful to have the technical skill.