Jim McKelvey

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Jim McKelvey
Jim Studio Headshow.jpeg
Photo Courtesy of Jessica Kopitske
Born (1965-10-19) October 19, 1965 (age 50)
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Residence San Francisco, California, U.S.
Occupation Director of Square, Inc., Mira, Inc., LockerDome, Emerald Automotive. Entrepreneur

Jim McKelvey is an American computer science engineer and businessperson widely known as the co-founder of Square, a mobile payments company.

Early years[edit]

McKelvey was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 19, 1965 to James and Edith McKelvey. James Morgan (Jim) McKelvey, Jr. is the eldest son of the former Dean of the Engineering School at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), James Morgan McKelvey, Sr. He grew up in St. Louis, MO, and is a Distinguished Alumnus of Ladue Public High School. In 1984, as a freshman Economics major at WUSTL, he wrote and published a replacement for the computer programming textbook used in one of his classes.[1] The success of the book led McKelvey to sign a contract with a publisher for a second book at the age of 19. This book became a bestseller.[2] McKelvey spent his junior year at the London School of Economics in England and graduated from WUSTL with dual degrees in Economics and Computer Science.

After graduation, McKelvey worked as a Visiting Scientist at IBM's Los Angeles Scientific Center. While still at IBM, McKelvey also worked as a glassblowing instructor and started a CD cabinet manufacturing company. After his mother's sudden death a week before Christmas in 1989, he had a personal crisis and decided to focus his efforts on one company. McKelvey and a college friend founded Mira Corporation shortly thereafter.

Mira Digital Publishing[edit]

Founded by McKelvey and David Mitchell in 1989, Mira developed one of the first PC document imaging systems, "Look", in 1991. The software had limited success and Mitchell left in 1992. Unable to compete with Adobe Acrobat, McKelvey successfully moved the company into tradeshow publishing. The advent of the Internet decimated that business in the mid-1990s. In 1995, with the assistance of one of Mira's summer interns, Jack Dorsey, McKelvey again pivoted the company into conference publishing where it remains today. He left daily management at Mira in 2000, but remains its owner and Chairman.

Third Degree Glass Factory[edit]

McKelvey began blowing glass as a teenager at Washington University and then studied briefly with master Lino Talgiapietra. In 2000 after giving a demonstration at his Alma Mater, he met Doug Auer and together they founded Third Degree Glass Factory[3] in St. Louis.

In 2006, McKelvey wrote and published an instructional textbook for glassblowing,[4] later translated into Norwegian.[5] That same year, Third Degree hosted the world's largest conference for art glass GAS 2006 and in preparation for this conference McKelvey designed and produced a line of all-glass faucets.

Though not originally intended for sale, the demand for the faucets eventually led McKelvey to form another company[6] to sell them.

Square, Inc.[edit]

Dorsey and McKelvey reunited late in 2008 to start a business together. They were working on one of Dorsey's ideas when McKelvey suggested the basic idea for Square.[7][8] McKelvey sits on the board of Square and served as its Chairman until 2010. McKelvey designed the hardware[9] used by Square in 2009. In 2011, McKelvey's iconic card reader design was inducted into the Museum of Modern Art. The Square logo was designed by Robert Andersen (*).

Cultivation Capital[edit]

Recognizing a need for early stage venture funding for the growing entrepreneurship community in St. Louis, McKelvey teamed with St. Louis-based serial entrepreneurs Brian Matthews, Clifford Holekamp, Peter Esparrago and Rick Holton to found Cultivation Capital in 2012. Their venture capital firm manages three funds: an early stage tech fund, an early stage life sciences fund, and a series A growth fund.[10]


In September 2013, McKelvey conceived and co-founded LaunchCode, a non-profit organization that creates pathways to economic opportunity and upward mobility through apprenticeships and job placement in technology.[11] LaunchCode partners with hundreds of companies to set up paid apprenticeships in technology for talented people who lack the traditional credentials to land a good job.[12]

McKelvey started LaunchCode for two reasons. First, millions of Americans are unemployed, or stuck in cycles of low wage job after low wage job. Second, companies face a giant tech talent gap.[13] This was particularly striking in McKelvey's hometown of St. Louis, where qualified computer programmers were in short supply.[14] LaunchCode aims to bridge the gap by growing new talent and creating pathways to on the job training and employment. In 2014, LaunchCode was named "The Best Thing to Happen to St. Louis" by the St. Louis Riverfront Times.[15]

Public Speaking[edit]

Jim McKelvey is a frequent public speaker, lecturing on a range of topics from art to entrepreneurship.

McKelvey shared his entrepreneurial philosophy on May 10, 2012, during Big Omaha 2012. The presentation describes a realization that he was "a mediocre IBM programmer" and how the death of his mother in 1988 compelled him to follow his passions. From digital publishing to glass blowing and through the invention of the foundational technology behind the Square Credit Card Reader in 2009, McKelvey walked attendees ultimately through the launch of a classic Silicon Valley startup.

On Friday, June 22, 2012, McKelvey spoke at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center event, "Seeds of Change,[16] " on the subject of hacking solutions to what he described as St. Louis's most pressing challenges: retaining talent, attracting industry, and curbing crime.

McKelvey was profiled by CNN's The Next List, a weekly newsmagazine-style national television broadcast featuring "innovators, visionaries, and agents of change." The half-hour episode aired at 2pm, Sunday, January 6, 2013. Professional colleagues, friends and family provided insight and background into his creative work process, values and personal history.

McKelvey also submitted a blog post titled "Lino's Lesson" for publication in The Next List Blog. The article detailed McKelvey's revelatory experience as a student under master Venetian glass artist Lino Tagliapietra.

McKelvey also spoke at the University of Southern California on April 10, 2013 for Professor Belasco's Taking the Leap - The Entrepreneurial Mindset. He gave a dynamic speech and Q&A for students.

Current[when?] Affiliations[edit]

  • Square, Inc. – Director, Co-Founder
  • Mira, Inc. – Chairman, Co-Founder
  • STL Programs, Inc. – Owner
  • Third Degree, LLC – Co-Founder
  • LockerDome[17] – Director
  • Arch Grants - Advisory Board
  • Kabbage - Advisor
  • Emerald Automotive[18] - Director
  • Cultivation Capital[19][citation needed] - General Partner
  • SixThirty[20] - Managing Director
  • LaunchCode[21] - Co-Founder

The Maker Movement
McKelvey is associated with the maker culture for his work with Third Degree, Square and Emerald Automotive .[22]


  1. ^ McKelvey, Jim (1986). The Debugger's Handbook=USCD and Apple Pascal. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0-534-06432-7. 
  2. ^ McKelvey, Jim (1987). The Debugger's Handbrook - Turbo Pascal. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0-534-06434-1. 
  3. ^ http://www.stlglass.com, retrieved 2012-01-20  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ McKelvey, Jim (2006). The Art of Fire - Beginning Glass Blowing. ISBN 978-0-9786831-1-5. 
  5. ^ McKelvey, Jim (2009). Glasshandverk. ISBN 978-82-584-0595-2. 
  6. ^ http://www.glassfaucet.com, retrieved 2012-01-20  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Meyerowitz, Robert. "Jim McKelvey Has Altered the Way Money Changes Hands. Now What?". www.stlmag.com. stlmag.com. Retrieved March 2011. 
  8. ^ http://www.squareup.com, retrieved 2012-01-20  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Pontin, Jason. "The New Money". Technology Review. MIT. 
  10. ^ Cultivation Capital plants $100 million St. Louis Business Journal, June 28, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  11. ^ Lloyd, Tim. "Share It! Share on facebook173Share on twitter52Share on linkedin3164Share on printShare on email Square founder hopes to turn St. Louis into the Silicon Prairie". Marketplace. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  12. ^ "About - So What is LaunchCode?". LaunchCode. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Mims, Christopher. "Computer Programming Is a Trade; Let's Act Like It". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Clifford, Catherine. "Co-Founder of Square Wants to Save St. Louis, One Programmer at a Time". Entrepreneur.com. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Best Thing to Happen to St. Louis St. Louis 2014 - LaunchCode". Riverfront Times. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  16. ^ https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/25673/square_inventor_speaks_at_seeds_of_change
  17. ^ Dishman, Lydia. "Passion Play: LockerDome Wants To Win By Building A Better Facebook For Athletes". FastCompany.com. FastCompany.com. Retrieved January 5, 2012. 
  18. ^ McNicholas, Kym. "Square Co-Founder Jim McKelvey Smuggles Us Into an Emerald Electric Van Test Drive". PandoDaily.com. Retrieved June 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ [1][dead link]
  20. ^ Team | SixThirty. Sixthirty.co (2013-06-16). Retrieved on 2013-09-04.
  21. ^ Kurtovic, Amir. (2013-08-20) With LaunchCode, Jim McKelvey Wants To Change The Way Coders Learn And Get Jobs. Techli. Retrieved on 2013-09-04.
  22. ^ Anderson, Chris (2012). Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. Crown. p. 196. ISBN 978-0307720955.