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Megan Smith

Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President, at LaunchCode's Mentor Center in St. Louis on April 24, 2015. Seated is LaunchCode co-founder Jim McKelvey, former LaunchCode apprentice LaShana Lewis, and LaunchCode co-founder and executive director Brendan Lind.

LaunchCode is opening a community ‘Mentor Center’ to provide coding skills and other technology education for underprivileged youth in St. Louis.

St. Louis-based LaunchCode tapped Chicago coding bootcamp Blue1647 to assist in developing the Mentor Center, which is located at 4811 Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis’ Fountain Park neighborhood. The Mentor Center will occupy about 9,000 square feet of space that previously housed an unemployment office in a building owned by the state of Missouri.

Megan Smith, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, joined Jim McKelvey, LaunchCode’s founder, to make the announcement Friday afternoon.

Smith, who previously led Google’s new business development as vice president and was named the country’s Chief Technology Officer in September, told the LaunchCode apprentices and others in attendance that the Mentor Center would help provide role models for youth in the tech industry.

“The talent is here, it’s just about finding them and creating and opening doors and pulling them through,” Smith said.

An opening date for the Mentor Center has not yet been set. The Missouri Department of Economic Development has approved $250,000 in tax credits for LaunchCode, but the nonprofit is seeking to raise additional funding for operations and equipment.

“We just signed the lease at the building and are working on raising the funding for equipment and hiring the staff we need,” said LaunchCode’s education director Zach Lou, adding the fundraising goal is $1 million for a staff of about five at the center. “We expect it to open hopefully this summer.”

Last month, President Barack Obama launched a federal effort to train workers for high-technology service jobs called TechHire, and cited LaunchCode’s efforts to train software coders as a model.

Founded in 2013, LaunchCode pairs coders with engineers at dozens of St. Louis-area companies. McKelvey, who lives in Clayton, is co-founder of San Francisco-based mobile payment system Square and owns Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis.

LaunchCode, which has expanded to Miami, has placed apprentices in 10 states and has a goal of operating in 50 states by the end of the year. McKelvey said Friday that he was in talks with six other metro areas to open LaunchCode offices.

“Talent is a pipeline issue,” McKelvey said. “This center allows us to address more of a grass-roots, cultural effort which will help sustain LaunchCode in the long term. The big thing we’re trying to do is make this the place you want to play and learn.”

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