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Grand Circus

1570 Woodward Ave
Detroit, Michigan 48226

Damien Rocchi

By MJ Galbraith
January 31, 2014

It's an age old tale: the story of an Aussie who comes to Michigan, falls in love, starts a family, and tries to grow Detroit's technology industry.
Since Melbourne, Australia native Damien Rocchi first came to Detroit for work purposes in the mid-1990s, he met his Michigander wife, received an MBA from Wharton, moved back to Australia, started a family, and finally moved back to Michigan in 2009. Then, with the help of co-founder Bradley Hoos and Detroit Venture Partners, Damien started Grand Circus in 2013.
The company aims to increase the size of Detroit's technology industry by addressing a dearth of tech talent in the city through classes, workshops and networking opportunities. The three levels Grand Circus occupies in the Broderick Tower are split up into classrooms, community areas, and event spaces. There's also an entire floor dedicated to co-working spaces where local startups can work next to nationally-established businesses such as the on-demand car service Uber.
"Ultimately we want to address this problem that exists which is a chronic under-supply of tech talent in this city. That's really why we were created, to close the gap," says Damien. "We want to be the go-to source of tech talent for the city of Detroit."
One of the ways Damien and Grand Circus plan to accomplish this is by teaching local middle- and high-schoolers how to code. The company is designing programming to both bring children to their space downtown and to go out into the neighborhoods and offer lessons in the classrooms. Where general education may have trouble keeping up with the rapid pace of change in the technology field, Damien says that the Grand Circus model of instruction is defined by the ability to quickly develop and adjust classes to the needs of the day.
Grand Circus recently received validation of its vision from one of the industry's heavy hitters as Google has chosen the company as one of seven Google for Entrepreneurs tech hubs in the country. Google provides technology and better access to its services to entrepreneurs and startups affiliated with Grand Circus and the rest of what's known as the [email protected] Block.
"We can help companies get off to a really great start because we can give them the technology and training they need," says Damien. "If you want training, if you want to start a business, if you want to find a job, if you want to be around other entrepreneurs, or if you just want to hang out, come down here. That's my offer."
Since opening this past September, Grand Circus has already witnessed success. Damien cites examples including a startup connecting with a venture capitalist and a web developer who received a number of job offers over the course of a class as evidence of what Grand Circus can provide. There are a number of plans available to those who want to use the facilities with prices changing according to desired level of access. Damien's goal is to provide students, entrepreneurs, businesses, and the city's technology industry as a whole the opportunity to learn from each other, network, and grow.
"We think we can do a lot of great things. Starting in middle schools and high schools, developing the sort of talent that companies need," says Damien. "Connecting people with opportunities—that's the other benefit of having a space. A lot of collisions happen in a space. Someone with an idea looking for a co-founder. We have an event and suddenly you're off creating a business."

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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