Chicago-based tech workforce development program i.c. stars coming to Milwaukee

i.c. stars, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that trains young adults in the inner city for careers in technology, will soon launch its workforce development program in Milwaukee.

The organization’s new Milwaukee branch, which will be based out of The Dohmen Co.’s Red Arrow Labs office in the Third Ward, is a response to two needs in the community: the demand for tech workers and a lack of employment opportunities for young adults in the city, said Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c. stars.

Kastrul said she expects to launch the Milwaukee program in late February.

The organization offers a two-year, project-based learning program, which is free to participants.

“We’re a technology leadership and business training program and social enterprise,” she said. “In a nutshell, we find talent, train talent and put talent to work.”

As part of the program, cohorts of 20 participants are assigned Fortune 500 clients and are tasked with solving a real-world business problem with technology. Teams within the cohort complete with each other for the companies’ bid. After three months of training, participants begin building mobile apps for their clients.

Over the course of a two-year residency, participants receive professional development, mentoring and wraparound support, as well as a stipend. Participants leave with 1,000 hours of hands-on experience, according to Kastrul.

i.c. stars works with participants to place them in tech jobs after they have completed the program.

The program costs about $16,000 per participant. Funding comes from corporations and foundations. i.c. stars doesn’t receive any government funding.

“It’s an expensive program but we believe the investment is worth it,” Kastrul said. “Because we need the i.c. stars participants to be leaders in the community.”

The average age of program participants is 20 to 25 years-old. Prior tech experience is not a requirement, but i.c. stars looks for highly motivated candidates, Kastrul said.

“We look for bright and talented folks who have faced adversity,” she said. “We believe that adversity develops resiliency, with critical thinking skills, creativity and reciprocity and chutzpah.”

The organization first launched in Chicago in 2000. It has also expanded to Columbus, Ohio.

Kastrul said i.c. stars has seen positive results, based on metrics including the average earning increase among participants, job placement rates and the percentage of participants who end up giving back to the community.

In Chicago, the organization has seen a 90 percent placement rate among graduates. Among Chicago’s 400 alumni, 47 have gone on to become homeowners, Kastrul said.

“We’re really proud of that statistic because folks who were receiving public assistance are now homeowners and investing back in the community.”

Cynthia LaConte, CEO of The Dohmen Co., which is one of of the Milwaukee program’s backers, applauded the organization in a statement.

“I’m so proud to support an organization whose mission is to empower under-served youth and help them bridge to leadership roles in Milwaukee’s technology community,”  LaConte said. “The Dohmen Foundation is centered on a goal to leverage business as a catalyst for building healthy communities. What better way to do that than with an in demand field like technology?”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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