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January 07, 2014 | Tom Ballard

The Biz Foundry emphasizing code training for all ages

TN Code AcademyBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

The team at The Biz Foundry in Cookeville is establishing itself as the place to go for code training of about any type for any age group.

“This is not your typical workforce initiative,” Jeff Brown, the organization’s President, told during a recent interview. “It’s not about workforce per se, but the talent pool for start-ups.”

His explanation makes perfect sense, considering the role that The Biz Foundry plays as one of Launch Tennessee’s nine regional accelerators designed to help high growth, technology-focused new companies.

“Our goal is to build the talent to be great entrepreneurs,” Brown said, with Lowdermilk adding, “We are the only accelerator (in the state) doing this.”

Because of its unique offering, The Biz Foundry is generating interest in the programs from the other eight accelerators. This fact is providing the opportunity to expand beyond Cookeville into Chattanooga, Jackson, and many other communities in the state.

During 2014, The Biz Foundry team plans four different offerings – from a program focused on teens to those focused on professionals and even something targeted to service veterans.

We have published several articles about those expansion plans, but took advantage of a trip to Nashville to stop in Cookeville to chat first hand with Brown, Sammy Lowdermilk, the organization’s Communications and Technology Director, and two other key players in the code activities.

What we gained was a better understanding of the vision and intense planning that are behind the effort, starting with the Tennessee Code Camps, focused on 12- to 18-year olds, and the Tennessee Code Academies, focused on adults.

“We take teens and pre-teens interested in programming and code and give them a scattered shot of the most popular web technologies,” said Elton Cranfill, Curriculum Director for the overall Academy.

Thus far, The Biz Foundry has offered two of the week-long camps – one in Cookeville and another in Chattanooga in conjunction with WTCI, the Public Broadcasting Service affiliate. Eighteen students participated in the two programs, although Brown noted that “20 is the optimal number.”

This March marks a statewide rollout of the week-long camps. Lowdermilk said sessions are either planned or being discussed in Chattanooga, Columbia, Cookeville, Crossville, Johnson City, Knoxville, LaFollette, and Nashville.

Unlike these camps that are targeted to teens, another offering – the Tennessee Code Academy – is a full-time curriculum focused on adults who want intensive training.

“It’s like a two-year degree in 12 weeks,” Brown explained. “This is not to teach a language, but rather to train people to be developers.”

The 12 weeks involve classes during the day plus homework at night. Brett Farris, instructor for both the camps and the Academy, says the curriculum is still being developed for the Code Academy.

“It will involve three frontend programming languages plus web and mobile development,” he added. The frontend tools are HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript with Query.

A third offering is a program called the “Merovingian Project.” It will roll out in late May in Cookeville. Unlike the other Biz Foundry offerings, this program will create four teams working on real-world projects for companies and entrepreneurs.

Brown says there are 32 slots available with eight-person cross-functional teams created to focus on one of four areas – front-end engineering, design, back-end engineering, and infrastructure.

“We hope we will see four different teams walking out of here to start a business,” Brown explained.

One might think that three initiatives in a year would be sufficient, but The Biz Foundry has a fourth program under development.

“The final piece is our ‘Code Warrior,’ strictly for military veterans and geared toward cyber security,” Lowdermilk said.

“We believe it will help address the high unemployment among veterans,” Brown added. The program will be offered later in 2014 in Chattanooga.

The Biz Foundry team says they found their model for code training at The Iron Yard Accelerator in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area. Brown says the program was “hugely successful . . . and they’ve been extremely helpful to us in implementing our plans.”

As Brown noted, it’s about creating the talent to start technology businesses or work in existing ones.

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