Employment, Job Related


We Find Talent. We Train Talent. We Put Talent to Work.

aka Inner-City Computer Stars Foundation

Chicago, IL


i.c.stars is a technology workforce training and placement program for promising young adults. To address the lack of opportunity and systematic oppression in our communities, i.c.stars was created to activate a technology community of change agents to power social and economic freedom.

Ruling Year


President & Co-Founder

Sandee Kastrul

Main Address

415 N. Dearborn, Ste 300

Chicago, IL 60654 USA


workforce development; job skills training; STEM; technology; project based learning; career readiness; case management; counseling





Cause Area (NTEE Code)

Employment Training (J22)

Human Service Organizations (P20)

IRS Filing Requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs + Results

What we aim to solve

According to UIC’s Great Cities Institute, in Chicago 59% of black young adults (ages 20-24) are out of work. The end of industrialization produced a dramatic departure of jobs from large sections of the city along with the rise in chronic and concentrated joblessness. Additionally, according to the 2019 Strada Institute for the Future of Work’s On-ramps to Good Jobs report, “our current education and training system is lagging and failing too many unemployed and underemployed Americans.” At the same time, tech is the fastest-growing sector. i.c.stars bridges employers with tech jobs to fill with underrepresented and underserved adults who need opportunity. Through its emphasis on technical mastery, soft skills, network building, and market-facing curriculum, i.c.stars has been recognized as an on-ramp to technology jobs. Not only is there continued job growth in this industry, but IT has been recognized by Urban Labs as a particular area of interest for disconnected young people.

Our Sustainable Development Goals

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

8 16

Our programs

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Business, Leadership & Technology Job Skills Training

Technology & Talent Convenings

Where we work

Charting Impact

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What is the organization aiming to accomplish?

What are the organization's key strategies for making this happen?

What are the organization's capabilities for doing this?

How will they know if they are making progress?

What have they accomplished so far and what's next?

Too often, talented students graduate from high school and find few options beyond dead-end, minimum wage jobs. Schools had not prepared them for the growing number of tech related careers. Life had not prepared them to see themselves as able to succeed in the corporate world or ready to take a seat at that table. They are invisible to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and lack the network that mentors and applauds new business leaders. Talented youth from inner-city neighborhoods want good jobs that lead to high growth careers, empowerment, and connection to a like-minded network. Companies want and need diversity and high performers in their workforce. At the same time, a growing number of high-paying careers require the use of sophisticated software and for candidates to have programming and advanced technology skills. i.c.stars is the bridge that links talented, underserved applicants to skills training, a diverse corporate network, and high growth jobs. i.c.stars identifies non-traditional talent, trains them for higher paying, technology-based jobs, mentors them for success in the corporate world, and connects them to high-paying careers and a network of successful entrepreneurs in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. Participants learn by doing; they build web-based applications to solve client challenges and gain the professional network needed to jumpstart their careers. We also work to change employer perceptions and practices around inner-city and nontraditional talent-- literally changing the face of corporate tech talent. Employer partners advocate for us and help attract new partners into our project-based skill development program. This matters because it brings employers into new communities and changes the way they recruit. Goals Include: To deliver a project-based model that will prepare young adults, through training and networking, for technology, business careers & entrepreneurship: *Increase the number of young adults who have access to tech job skills *Increase number of young adults with skills and social capital for tech jobs with growth potential To place participants in positions that are the first steps toward higher level positions in the industry, reducing the unemployment rate in underserved communities: *Increase in number of underserved young adults working in tech & business *Increase in participant earnings by 300% (from $10,000 before the program to $44,000 at 12 months post graduation) To cultivate leaders who drive change in their communities: *Increase in the number of community leaders *Increase the number of employers hiring i.c.stars graduates as a result of exposure to i.c.stars’ talent, employer partners and project sponsor segment

i.c.stars participants are young adults - the majority between 18–30 and more than 90% are people of color or other groups facing high barriers. At least 48% receive Federal Benefits, approximately 15% have experienced homelessness, 16% had a felony and 35% have children. Additionally, all of the young adults i.c.stars serves are from low-income communities, and 100% are unemployed or extremely underemployed. Each participant experienced twelve hours of assessments from an initial candidate pool of 400-600 before selection into the program. i.c.stars begins with a four-month bootcamp, during which participants receive 1,000 hours of training. During the bootcamp, participants respond to an RFP from a corporate employer partner, with employer needs complementing the coding skills - HTML, CSS, JQuery, JavaScript, Python, and SQL - and methodologies like agile and scrum. Support and skill development continue during the 20-month residency period following the bootcamp, when program graduates receive job placement assistance, mentorship, higher education support, and counseling and case management as needed. While participants receive a stipend - and a laptop - during the four month bootcamp, i.c.stars means forgoing a minimum wage in order to invest in skills that lead to a career. What is most unconventional about i.c.stars is the agility built into our project-based model: employers pay to engage in the training, because they understand the value of a program that incorporates attributes specific to their organization. This keeps the technology curriculum market-facing and fluid. i.c.stars employs a unique educational model in that it uses responsive pedagogy, not teaching participants how to answer questions, but how to write them. i.c.stars’ daily High Tea speaker series brings a senior executive to the learning studio to share their career journey, building social capital for program participants’ and a talent pipeline for guest speakers. i.c.stars’ social justice, civics and leadership components result in alumni who volunteer and give to charities at rates of 80 - 90 percent. Finally, i.c.stars sets itself apart by promoting debt-free education: participants are provided with a stipend and laptop to work closely with the corporate clients with whom they partner. For program graduates, the average initial placement rate is 90%, earnings increase is approximately 300%, and industry retention is 80% at 12 months. In addition, 52 graduates have started for-profits or nonprofits, and 55 have become homeowners.

i.c.stars’ success is evident in our ability to provide a market-facing technology, leadership, and business training program, industry network, wraparound support, and guidance to connect motivated, underserved young adults with high growth technology careers. i.c.stars has developed a repeatable process, and an ability to build deep employer relationships and meet community needs. The i.c.stars program is driven by employer demand, and supported by a robust ecosystem of IT and technology organizations. Graduates work in technology at organizations such as Microsoft, Accenture, Discover, US Foods, United Airlines, Deloitte, Northwestern Mutual, Kohl’s, and Salesforce among others. What sets i.c.stars apart is not just the outcomes, however, but the longer term impact, which includes pursuit of higher education, homeownership, and entrepreneurship. i.c.stars is led by award-winning Black social entrepreneur Sandee Kastrul, who co-founded the organization. Before founding i.c.stars, Sandee designed interactive programs for GED students at Jobs for Youth, implemented a professional development program with Harold Washington College Career Center, and developed experiential learning modules for over 70 schools. The leadership structure includes a Milwaukee program Executive Director, Chief Operating, Chief Revenue and Chief Financial Officer, supported by a national board and city advisory boards. Board expertise is wide-ranging and targeted to the needs of i.c.stars; it includes senior level executives from healthcare, technology and Artificial Intelligence, financial services, management consulting, and legal. i.c.stars’ model is proven by twenty years of success. Over the next two years, i.c.stars is participating in a randomized control trial in partnership with Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities, the College of William and Mary, and the University of Illinois. By conducting this RCT, researchers will add external evidence to the impact of i.c.stars on employment and earnings.

In i.c.stars’ application and at intake, we collect data on education, pre-program employment, finances, debt and demographics. Performance data and completion rates are tracked by staff and stored in Salesforce. Employment, wages, and career advancement is tracked through staff check-ins and email forms. In a four-month course of study based on performance in real world projects, i.c.stars is interested in both a quantitative assessment and mastery in our three key training areas: Business, Leadership and Technology. Performance in the bootcamp is measured through individual and group assessments, project work, individual activities and completion of modules. After the four month bootcamp, we follow up with graduates to check placement status, identify obstacles and develop plans to address barriers to success. Key success metrics include program completion; our goal is 80% and we have a strict absence and tardiness policy, which is the most common reason participants may be terminated from the program. Program completion in the bootcamp is also contingent on performance. Technical skill mastery is assessed by Geek Week (an intensive series of timed assessments on relational databases using SQL and Excel), project work and completion of modules. Leadership activities are scored for integrity, making opportunities for others, and community. Success in the internship also relies on 360-degree performance reviews after each Sprint. A second key success metric is job placement. Our goal is 85% placement in a training related role at six months. The average time to placement is 3.3 months and the most common roles are Software Developer, QA Tester, Business Analyst or Help Desk Support. A third success metric is earnings increase - currently 300% on average at 12 months post-program. Graduates transition from receiving benefits to paying into the system. With i.c.stars, the estimated lifetime earnings of one graduate grows from $540,343 to $2,161,370 (based on $10,000 average pre program wage, assuming conservative annual cost of living raises of 2%, and based on average initial post i.c.stars salary of $40,000).

Since our inception twenty years ago, our average initial placement rate has been 90%, graduates experience a 300% earnings increase, and employment retention is 80% at one year following graduating. What sets i.c.stars apart is not just the outcomes but the longer term impact, which includes pursuit of higher education (38% of recent graduates obtained a B.A. after i.c.stars), homeownership (55 graduates have become homeowners), and entrepreneurship (52 graduates have started for-profits or nonprofits). At a systems level, the economic empowerment of i.c.stars ensures that individuals and their families’ basic needs are met, and a cycle of poverty is broken. Graduates transition from receiving benefits to paying into the system. With i.c.stars, the estimated lifetime earnings of one graduate grows from $540,343 to $2,161,370 (based on $10,000 average pre program wage, assuming conservative annual cost of living raises of 2%, and based on average initial post i.c.stars salary of $40,000). The Strada Institute for the Future of Work report On-ramps to Good Jobs features i.c.stars as a case study of "innovative programs that serve as an engine of upward mobility". What is most innovative about i.c.stars is the agility built into the project based model: employers pay to engage in the training, because they understand the value of a program that incorporates attributes specific to their organization. A graduate said the following about how the program had changed their self-image: “I transformed my view of self. I came in with low self esteem and lower self confidence. I didn’t value myself or feel like my opinion mattered. I was in this constant state of comparison to others but I found out I have my own way of seeing things and understanding. I have a different view of things and that makes me special in my own way.”

External Reviews



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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Board Leadership Practices

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SOURCE: Self-reported by organization


Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?



Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year?



Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year?



Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership?



Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years?