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If Emile Cambry were to describe his mission in one sentence, it would be “bringing education and economic development together in a cool package.”
Cambry, a well-known tech and social entrepreneur from Chicago, will enrich St. Louis’ entrepreneurial landscape by bringing education and tech opportunities to St. Louis. A long-term champion of underserved communities and founder of entrepreneurship and technology innovation center Blue1647, Cambry is committed to set up shop in St. Louis for the foreseeable future.
Photo: Andrew A. Nelles via BlueSkyInnovation.com
His move to St. Louis next week has a specific purpose. Next month, he will open two new facilities in the city, both aiming at community and workforce development.
Cambry, who serves as Blue1647’s CEO, says the main reason for choosing St. Louis as the organization’s first expansion site outside of his hometown of Chicago is the city’s prevailing collaborative spirit.
“A great number of people want to see great things happen here by promoting solutions,” Cambry says. “Everybody wants to play their part. That’s exciting.”
The first facility, located on 4811 Delmar Boulevard in a 9,000 square foot space that previously housed an unemployment office, is a partnership between Blue1647, LaunchCode and St. Louis County NAACP. The “mixture of co-working space, tech shop and community center” will house Blue’s ninth overall space, LaunchCode’s new Mentor Center as well as NAACP offices.
Similar to the Blue1647 centers in Chicago, according to Cambry, the first purpose of the new facility on Delmar is to empower individuals in the community by holding classes, workshops and events like hackathons.
Workforce development is the second pillar of Blue1647. “Many folks are only six to 12 months of training away from being highly employable and taking care of their families,” says Cambry. At the facility, people aged between 16 and 30 will have an opportunity to prepare for tech careers by learning and improving their mobile development, 3D printing and other tech-related skills.
To more effectually serve the St. Louis community, Blue1647 has partnered with LaunchCode, the St. Louis non-profit providing training, mentorship and job placement through apprenticeships. “LaunchCode’s and Blue’s missions align perfectly,” says Cambry. “We are a funnel, and at the end of the funnel you have folks who are excited and capable. We then shuttle them to LaunchCode and help them get to next level.”
The second facility will be located inside the Clinton Peabody housing project on LaSalle Street in St. Louis’ Near Southside neighborhood. During the day, the 10,000 square feet space will host workshops and classes for adults and offer after school programs for youth of 400 local families. “We want to create an ecosystem where youth can see adults that look like them building stuff, creating stuff, thus having a pipeline of new ideas.”
Cambry says his passion for community development stems from his experience as a college professor at North Park University in Chicago. Realizing that many of his students were struggling to find internships and jobs, the Chicago native founded 21st Century Youth Project in 2010, a program teaching high school students in under-served communities how to develop web and mobile apps. Says Cambry: “Many students have fantastic ideas, but we have to instill a culture of intellectual curiosity and technology development. If we can do that, the sky is the limit.”
Cambry saw 21CYP, which won the Edison Award in 2012, as an opportunity to help a high number of students early on: “I wanted my life judged on how many people I could impact,” reveals Cambry.
The events surrounding Ferguson since last year’s death of Mike Brown also played a role in Cambry’s decision to come to the city. “St. Louis is a microcosm of a lot of urban cities that have an underrepresented population and underemployed people, many of whom are frustrated. There are systems in place that don’t work in your favor although they should be supporting you.”
Cambry, who is a board member of DePaul University’s Social Enterprise Collective, believes the key to helping members of underserved communities move their career paths forward is economic empowerment through education. “If you provide better education and employ more people, you’ll have better opportunity for social mobility.”
If his new facilities prove to be as successful as the ones in Chicago, it could be both a valuable addition to St. Louis’ entrepreneurship community and good for social equality in the region.
Alex Miller, VP of Programs for LaunchCode, told EQ its Mentor Center that houses Blue1647 will open its doors early to mid-October. Miller also said LaunchCode is still actively fundraising for the project, including for Blue’s operations. The existing partners include the Missouri Department of Economic Development and JP Morgan Chase, for which Cambry worked as an investment banker.
Emile Cambry on Twitter: @EmileCambry