Workforce Development Program i.c.stars Expands to Columbus

Chicago-based i.c.stars has chosen Columbus as its first city for expansion. The organization offers a technology-based workforce development and leadership training program for low-income adults.

The efforts to bring the program to Columbus have largely been championed by Ryan Frederick of AWH.

“i.c.stars is really a program of hope and opportunity,” said Frederick at a recent event announcing the launch of the Columbus program. “This is life changing. This is community changing.”

i.c.stars has created a measurable, life-changing impact for some 300 alumni of the Chicago programs over the last decade.

Before the program, participants earn an average annual salary of $9,846. After the program, the average annual salary rises to $57,240. Program graduates see a 97 percent placement rate, and a two-year retention rate of about 80 percent.

“This is about people – sure, digital skills training, sure, leadership development – but ultimately it’s about people and the fact we’re trying to change someone’s life trajectory and career trajectory and everything that goes along with that,” Frederick said.

The i.c.stars program is intensive, with its participants logging 12-hour days over a four-month period.

“A company sponsors a project for the participants to work on and it’s a very digital agency, digital project delivery model,” Frederick said. 

Participants take on roles like business analyst, project manager, designer or developer.

Another differentiator between i.c.stars and other IT programs besides its focus on low-income individuals, is the fact participants are paid a small stipend versus often thousands of dollars of fees for other bootcamp experiences.

i.c.stars President & Co-founder Sandee Kastrul was also at the event to discuss the program’s origins and impact.

In the late 90s, even before the current-day skills gap that’s especially present in the IT field, Kastrul recognized that IT was special. There was a process and methodology behind it.

“What if we taught technology and systems thinking and got folks great jobs in IT as programmers, but then also used that as a blueprint for teaching community leadership,” Kastrul said. 

She finds that the program is creating three kinds of leaders – civic, business and service.

Service leaders are visible in their communities, inspiring the next generation.

“We wanted to measure things a little bit differently,” Kastrul said. “What if we measured success by not getting out of the community, but by giving back in, by investing in the communities that we come from.” 

That measure is seen in the 37 alumni that have purchased homes in the communities that they are from and the joining of neighborhood programs.

i.c.stars business leaders run the gamut, from working at Fortune 500 companies, to creating opportunities for others by starting their own businesses.

“We have over 46 entrepreneurs who have started successful businesses in our alumni group,” Kastrul said. 

Civic leaders are examining things from a systems perspective.

“They are the policy leaders, they are changing things,” Kastrul said. 

A process two and a half years in the making, Frederick is excited to finally bring these types of results to Columbus.

“As Columbus grows we need to be very aware of a widening gap between those that benefit from the prosperity and those that don’t,” Frederick said. “i.c.stars is a program to help bridge the gap and to ensure we have an atypical path for people to share in the prosperity. Growth without awareness and access for all goes against our values and what we stand for as a community. You cannot be open and smart as a community and not have pathways for everyone to leverage. i.c.stars is the embodiment of being the opportunity city.”

During the program he emphasized what a community effort bringing i.c.stars to Columbus has been.

The program has garnered the support of institutions like JP Morgan Chase. When Courtney Hodapp from the office of non-profit engagement at Chase heard about the i.c.stars program from Frederick, she said, “I want to fund that.” It’s a phrase not always so easily said by grant-makers.

The Columbus Foundation has also been instrumental in bringing i.c.stars to Columbus.

“One of the first organizations I went to was the Columbus Foundation because I knew that we were going to need their support financially, and virtually in every possible way,” Frederick said. 

i.c.stars was included in the Columbus Foundation’s Pathways Project which raised $633,000 for digital skills training programs.

Rev1 Ventures will house the i.c.stars program and has also played a critical role in the program’s launch.

“We wouldn’t be having a launch event if Rev1 hadn’t stepped up and filled really critical roles and filled some pretty critical holes that we needed filled,” Frederick says. 

Rev1 President & CEO Tom Walker shared what the program means to the organization.

“Nearly 49 percent of company leadership in the country says they have a talent gap and number seven in the top 10 most challenging to fill is IT staff,” Walker said. “We believe this kind of training is really critical to develop the next generation of talent to plug into our companies.” 

It’s talent that could be absorbed by many of Rev1’s portfolio companies that are looking to fill some 35 positions – many of which fall in the IT sector.

He also sees that a program such as i.c.stars can lead to more diversity in the workplace.

“All the research in the country says that companies that have diverse leaders and teams are more successful, and we believe that as part of the Rev1 model,” Walker said. 

i.c.stars is finalizing the details of its Columbus program. In addition to organizations like Chase and Rev1, the program is partnering with CoverMyMeds, Accenture, Nationwide and NiSource to fill a variety of needs from sponsoring projects to supplying mentors. 

Applications for the program are now open and can be directed to ryan.frederick@icstarscolumbus.org while i.c.stars finalizes adding Columbus to its website. 

The program is also actively seeking to fill three staff positions including executive director, training manager, and operations. Interested applicants can also email ryan.frederick@icstarscolumbus.org.