Our Blog

Our Blog

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A Place at the Table for Women in STEM

My dear friend, Paulina Fin Caprio, grew up in mergers and acquisitions and financial services. She definitely has The Geek going for her in terms of numbers and scale. We put our heads together and thought it would be a terrific idea to bring women entrepreneurs and investors together at the same table to share a pot of tea, i.c.stars-style.

skastrul's picture

It’s National Chemistry Week!


The week of October 18th is National Chemistry Week, and as a former chemistry teacher, I’m excited about recognizing the fun and excitement that chemistry is all about.

From my experience, kids love science, especially chemistry. And what’s not to love? You get to see what happens when you mix things up and intentionally cause a reaction. At the end of the day, science is the study of truth, and kids are always asking why. It’s not until we become adults that we buy into the narrative that science is hard and not fun. But the best kept secret is that it’s really fun!

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Entrepreneurship: Being A Maker Requires Fuel


I recently visited Milwaukee, one of our expansion cities. And before that I visited Columbus. I’m meeting with the service and business communities working together in these cities to raise funds to start local i.c.stars ventures. I’ve already been working with them for two years, just getting them started. Unfortunately, I can’t just jump into Milwaukee or any other city and set-up an i.c.stars. As much as I want to see the program expand, what I want more is for that to happen organically - I want them to drive it. So it takes longer than I would like it to take. But when they do get there, they are engaged and ready.

This is exciting, because as an entrepreneur, I’m a builder. I love the seed to bud spectrum of growth. I love to take an idea, to plant it, to nurture it and to imagine what it will become. To water it and to see it sprout, to help it grow and to watch it bud, and then hand it off so that I can work on the next seed ready to be planted. Different entrepreneurs are great at different things, at different levels. Some really geek out on operations - strengthening the bud, making sure that there are no weeds and everything is perfect for growing the seed to the next level.

skastrul's picture

Leadership Starts by Surrendering To The Magic of What is To Become

I recently visited a school called Epic Academy. I really liked this school. It has good kids, great teachers and an awesome principal. What I really liked about it is that the expectations for their students are higher than you’ll find at most schools. Lowered expectations are one of the symptoms of a disease in our schools: faith loss. When you walk up to a school building, and it smells, and the walls are littered in graffiti, and not the beautiful kind, that is also a sign that the community has given up. That they don’t believe in the future. Because if we give up on education, we are giving up on the future.

Epic believes that these kids are the future and will go on to pursue great things. When you arrive on campus, you can clearly see the students’ pride in their school, that they take responsibility for its culture. I had two meetings at Epic. One was with five students, who were eligible for Ivy League schools, and I was there to help them with the decision to go away to school.

skastrul's picture

She Who Pays, Wins

She Who Pays, Wins

We have a saying in the i.c.stars program about networking, or taking somebody out to lunch or coffee. “She Who Pays, Wins.” Our i.c.stars alums always have a secret objective during these meals: to get the check before anyone else can.

If you pick up the check, the first win is that you don’t have to write a thank you note. But ultimately, the win is a lot better than that. The real win is that this idea shifts us away from thinking that someone else needs to pay for us.

Instead. we can actually treat someone to something. And with that thought. we move the event from a transaction to a relationship.

Very often, I have lunch with alums, and they’ll try to win the check from me; it’s sort of a battle. I’ll often say, “No, I’ve got this. Why don’t you pay it forward and take somebody else to lunch?”

skastrul's picture

Women, if You Want to Suit Up, Speak Up: Something for your tool-kit

Toolkits play an essential role in our survival. Sometimes the toolkit is simple - it’s for fixing the drain. A more complicated toolkit helps us navigate our culture. Toolkits are so important that every cycle, an intern is assigned the task of building a toolkit for the next cycle - a Swiss army knife of sorts. The i.c.stars internship isn’t a light commitment. With over 1000 hours spent in a project based learning environment, and an emphasis on honing leadership skills and solving business problems via technology, it’s a transformative experience for our interns. And with transformation, there are challenges.

When I heard Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk, “Why we have too few women leaders,” I was struck by the concept of making space for others at the table, and by the fact that women have always done that. We make space for the voice, the goals, the needs and desires of others and subsequently their place at the leadership table.

skastrul's picture

Dream Speeches, Leadership and Roddenberry


A few weeks ago the latest cohort of interns were beginning career month. This is a special month in their time here at i.c.stars, because they have finished their project and now they are architecting their future, and not just what sort of role they want in the next few years. It’s more about what type of impact they will make in their communities and what their journey map looks like.

One of the career month activities they have is to write a dream speech. You write a speech for an award you are accepting 20 years in the future. This workshop is so powerful because not only do they have to imagine what they will do in the future but what the future looks like itself. The interns will then host a dream speech ceremony where they present their dream speeches and invite a witness who will also be there 20 years from now to hold them accountable for that dream.

skastrul's picture

To Lead Out (Education)

One of the richest things about being an educator - and about the word, “education” - is the Latin root of these words, educere - to lead out. What’s always fascinated me as a teacher, educator and entrepreneur on the education stage is the question, “How are we leading our students out?”

Almost a year ago, as part of Chicago Ideas Week, I led a session called, “The End of School,” a very provocative talk about what that phrase means. My hypothesis was that the end of school does not mean the end of education. Instead, it means that we think about how to school people differently. The session included a group of very disruptive educators like Victor Saad from Experience Institute and the fantastic Co-Founder of Backyard Brains Greg Gage who fascinated us with tales of brilliant neuroscience experiments conducted on roaches. Everyone was enthralled.

skastrul's picture

Who Do You Claim, and Who Claims You?

It is July, though given the cold, rainy summer we’ve had so far, you wouldn’t know it. We just celebrated Pride weekend in Chicago, and the icing on the cake was the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. And while that’s a huge event, what I really want to talk about is what it means to be near the end of a movement. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d live to see gay marriage legalized in my lifetime. What does it mean to declare our independence from a movement as it ends?

A Long Way Since Stonewall

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Illinois for a few years. We’ve come a long way since Stonewall. And in my lifetime, I’m seeing the movement — and it’s absolutely a movement — approach its ending. The PRIDE movement is proud now. But does marriage equality mean that the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality is complete?

skastrul's picture

Shared Humanity Is What Truly Connects Us

When I set out two weeks ago to attend the SIM (Society for Information Management) Women conference and TEDWomen 2015, I didn’t think that the events would be so closely intertwined. I expected to hear really great content, meet some awesome women, and impart some of my knowledge from my perspective in the world.

Amanda Hogan's picture

Top 10 Reasons to join i.c.stars Summer Giving Challenge

1. It’s a match! Every new or increased donation to i.c.stars made this summer will be doubled by a generous donor. Double your impact by giving before September 2nd.

Amanda Hogan's picture

i.c.stars alumni geek out at ChicagosNext Hackathon

Just a day after presenting the functionality of their mobile app created for law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP at i.c.stars May 1st Conference, a group of recent i.c.stars graduates competed in a Non-prof

skastrul's picture

Welcome to the Kitchen Table: "Belief"

I’m so happy to share my experience at the Skoll World Forum created by the founder of E-bay Jeff Skoll, in Oxford UK. One of the most intesting topic or theme from this years event is inspired by Kevin Starr from the Mulago Foundation. He brought us an excellent rubric for measuring happiness.

skastrul's picture

An Afternoon with the Stars - Multi-Generational Marketing Predictions for the Future

In partnership with i.c.stars, the Chicago Chapter of the Business Marketing Association (BMA) will host an event on Monday, May 4 focusing on predictions for the future of marketing. i.c.stars is fortunate to be presenting forecasts from a diverse set of industries and perspectives. John Naisbitt, successful businessman and author of Megatrends once said, “To forecast the future, one must understand the present.”

skastrul's picture

Feast or Famine

My family and I just celebrated Passover. Passover is a Jewish religious festival that lasts eight days every spring, commemorating the liberation of the Jews from Egypt. After many decades of slavery to Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, Moses pleaded with the Pharaoh. “Let my people go.”

skastrul's picture

An Open Letter to Vivek Wadhwa: You Are More Than Welcome at the Table

I want to start off by saying, thank you. Thank you, Mister Wadhwa.

Thank you for stepping into the debate about the lack of women in technology and entrepreneurship, and thank you for shedding a light on more than one issue within it. First, you brought the gender disparity to light and presented it as a factual truth. I’m not sure why we even call it a “debate.”

skastrul's picture

Mexico City Comes to i.c.stars

Recently, i.c.stars had the privilege of meeting some of our South-of-the-border neighbors from Mexico City. The visiting group took part in a contest run by Startup Mexico in order to discover new social solutions to combat social issues, one of them being drunk driving. The grand prize: a trip to Chicago, to see its sights and sounds and to meet interesting people and the organizations they belong to. Naturally, a get-together with i.c.stars was a must.

Amanda Hogan's picture

What's Next in Cybersecurity?

skastrul's picture

The Future of Ferguson

I recently visited Ferguson, Missouri, on the invitation of Thoughtworks, one of i.c.stars’ strategic partners and sponsors. We share similar values in terms of using technology as a tool to promote social justice. Our friends at Thoughtworks invited me to Ferguson to attend a Town Hall meeting with Hands Up United, because some Thoughtworkers are working with them.

Amanda Hogan's picture

DNSimple connects with i.c.stars

Last week, i.c.stars was excited to make a new friend in DNSimple.


Life after the i.c.stars internship.

Sontcera McWilliams shares some her journey of becoming an i.c.stars intern, and her day to day life now as an i.c.stars employee “Tech Fellow”. Join her in her upcoming webinars and information sessions.

tlevy1913's picture

The Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Hesed House

10. Mission to serve homeless persons in the Chicagoland area
Hesed House is a national model for ending homelessness
– one person, one family at a time. It is the culmination of nearly three decades of strategic evolution from a formerly acceptable model of “eats and sheets” to a Comprehensive Homeless Resource Center – a campus of centralized highly skilled professionals collaborating to provide the tools necessary to help individuals and families break free of the shackles binding them to homelessness.

tlevy1913's picture

i.c.stars Success Stories: Get to know Matt and Jeremy

Matt Dickerson and Jeremy Nichols are two hardworking individuals that became involved in the i.c.stars program. This video highlights their key takeaways from their time as residents with i.c.stars, as well as their experiences as mobile developers with Solstice Mobile on the jobPrep application.

Amanda Hogan's picture

Employer of the Month: Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago!

Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago became a first time i.c.stars employer on June 17, 2014.

Jerryjohnson's picture

The Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Goodwill

Top Ten Countdown: Reasons We Love Goodwill

10. Mission for Workforce Development
Goodwill provides training, employment and supportive services for people with disabilities or disadvantages who seek greater independence. Their mission is over 90 years strong and it strengthens individuals, families and communities.

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A day in the life of an i.c.stars intern. By, Amber W

Amber shares some insights and experiences as she is finishing up her internship with i.c.stars as part of Cycle 31.

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A day in the life of an i.c.stars intern. By, Michael B

Michael shares some insights and experiences as he is days away from finishing up his internship with i.c.stars as part of Cycle 31.

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A day in the life of an i.c.stars intern. By, Stephanie H

Stephanie shares some insights and experiences as she is finishing up her internship with i.c.stars as part of Cycle 31.

skastrul's picture

Featured on Blue Sky Innovation

What a co-founder sees as the ‘primary driver of invention’

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A day in the life of an i.c.stars intern. By, Sabrina S

Sabrina shares a high level description of our 4 p.m high tea sessions and her experience as part of Cycle 31.

A Measurable Impact

Initial placement rate:
Industry retention rate:
College attendance rate:
Alumni actively engaged in their communities:
Average 12-month earnings before program:
Average 12-month earnings after program: