Tech hub BLUE1647 opening new location to fight unemployment and empower South Side

Christine Schmidt

File 40502

In just over a year, neighborhood-focused tech hub BLUE1647 has organized two code boot camps, hosted three hackathons, graduated 90 low-income students from the workforce development program, is set to take 130 new participants through its fall program, hosted a demo day this past Saturday, and launched a small business accelerator.

Now, founder Emile Cambry is partnering with the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation (GECDC) to bring a second center to that neighborhood, with the goal of opening four BLUE1647 centers across the city.

“We really feel like this is a niche where we can provide transferrable skills, make these students entry-level developers, and put it in an area where it’s not known for technology or innovation but at the same time is asking for jobs and opportunities,” Cambry said. “We figured hey, put the fastest growing job segment training in the area that needs it the most.” The original center is currently located in Pilsen.

Cambry—a Chicago native with an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, experience in healthcare business, and a professor in the MBA program at North Park University—thought of the BLUE1647 concept after teaching mobile web development to youth. “We decided to take it to the next step and have an incubator where we can have youth and adults within the same space—working with each other, learning from each other,” Cambry said.

The Englewood location comes as a result of communication between GECDC and Cambry, as part of the corporation’s eight-point plan to further develop and enhance the Englewood community. The 22,000-square-foot site near the future location of Whole Foods at 63rd and Halsted is still in the process of build-out and won’t be open until June 2015, but programs will begin in the first quarter of 2015, thanks to a partnership with the University of Chicago’s new Chicago Innovation Exchange.

In addition to the collaborative workspace and other features in the Pilsen BLUE1647, the new center will house a commercial kitchen, enabling participants to learn more about and practice food science and tech in a second collegiate partnership with Kennedy-King College. “We look at the Pilsen location as where we kind of do a little of everything, but we look at these other centers that we’re going to put throughout the city to have a particular focus that we’re going to be able to tap into,” he said.

Throughout the expansion and development of future centers, BLUE1647 is open to anyone “from 7 to 70,” according to Cambry. Chicagoans of all skill levels can get involved, from students with absolutely no programming experience to tech gurus who can serve as mentors or instructors.

“We don’t look at this as a South Side type of thing, or a West Side type of thing—this is a Chicago thing,” Cambry said. “Ultimately what we want to do is bring together as many resources and people as we can, that can help our communities and ultimately makes Chicago better.” 

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