Detroit’s Grand Circus Wants to Nurture Local Community’s Tech Talent

Part technology, business, and design training institute; part co-working space; and part event space, Grand Circus is the Quicken Loans family’s newest tool in Detroit to “elevate the tech profile of the community,” says co-founder Brad Hoos.

It’s widely acknowledged that there’s a huge shortage of developer talent in Detroit, and Grand Circus’s organizers want to bring respected hackers and thinkers to the classroom to share their talents with the local tech community as it grows.

Located in 15,000 square feet of space in the newly renovated Broderick Tower downtown, Grand Circus intends to offer a “very differentiated” curriculum and way of engaging the community when it launches in September.

Tech training is largely a box-checking exercise,” says co-founder Damien Rocchi. “It doesn’t necessarily add value to day-to-day work and it’s not always cutting-edge. At Grand Circus, we’ll cover the latest thinking in mobile and Web development.”

Rocchi explains that the Grand Circus approach to training is to develop a curriculum around helping companies and individuals by delivering the skills necessary to find jobs. “We’re focused on high-challenge, high-reward topics,” Hoos adds.

Grand Circus also brings in real-world practitioners from partner entities like Detroit Labs, Apigee, and Alpha Jango to serve as instructors. Classes are interactive rather than lecture-based. “We take all the great entrepreneurial tech talent here and find instructors from that sphere to share with the community,” Hoos says. “It’s truly a community organization.”

Grand Circus is a Detroit Venture Partners portfolio company with additional support from Invest Detroit, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

The startup offers classes with a range of formats and prices. The cheaper seminars, like the upcoming Create a Business Plan seminar, taught by Xconomist and early-stage investor Terry Cross, is $30. The Build an iPhone App course, which meets twice a week between Sep. 30 and Dec. 9, is $3,400. Rocchi points out that some of the classes aren’t meant for the novice developer. “We definitely cover a variety of skill levels,” he says.

Startup companies will also be able to lease co-working space, and Hoos says eventually members of the public will also be welcome to lease space. Grand Circus plans to draw inspiration from the Madison Building’s modern design and open seating plan for its space.

Rocchi says what he ultimately hopes is that Grand Circus will play the role of central hub serving southeast Michigan’s developer talent. Hoos echoes that, pointing out that there are “tons of tech jobs” available in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor. Training local talent to fill those jobs is the Grand Circus mission.

“Universities are ripe for disruption now,” Hoos notes. “People continue to evaluate if a four-year degree is even necessary. There’s also a perception gap. When people get the chance to come to downtown Detroit, they want to be a part of what’s happening. There’s so much excitement, and we want to be a part of that.”

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