Chicago Innovation Blog

Chicago Innovation Launches The Ladder—Mentorship for Black and Latinx Innovators

by | Jan 3, 2022

Chicago Innovation, in partnership with i.c.stars, has announced a new mentorship  program designed to advance the careers of Black and Latinx innovators. 

The new program, which begins in January 2022, will match Black and Latinx innovators drawn  from all sectors of the Chicago region’s economy—public, private, and non-profit—with  established Black and Latinx leaders. The goal is to both advance the careers of the individuals involved and to build the diversity and capacity of Chicago’s leadership community. 

“This is a program that will take advantage of Chicago Innovation’s unique ability to cut across  the spectrum of industries in the Chicago region,” said Luke Tanen, President and CEO of  Chicago Innovation. “There is power in the mentor-mentee relationship and it is magnified  when it takes place within the enormous networking capacity of Chicago Innovation.” 

Chicago Innovation is home to the widely known Chicago Innovation Awards. It is also home to  three other programs: The Women’s Mentoring Co-op to help women connect, innovate and  grow; Ageless Innovators, which provides intergenerational co-mentoring; and the Chicago  Student Invention Convention, an innovation curriculum and competition for K-8th grade  students. 

The Ladder will join that suite of programs when it launches its first cohort in January with 25  mentor and mentee pairs. 

A distinctive feature of The Ladder will be its intergenerational component, with about one-third  of the mentors being older adults over the age of 60. The capacity to build that aspect of the  program is provided through a grant from the Chicago-based RRF Foundation for Aging. The  Ladder is also receiving sponsorship support from the Kadens Family Foundation, Crown Castle  and Insperity. 

The new program is being done in partnership with the prominent Chicago-based organization i.c.stars, which provides underserved young adults with technology-based workforce  development, community leadership training, internships and job placement.

“The Ladder will be unique in its capacity to build career options and expand business  opportunities for Black and Latinx innovators in the Chicago region,” said Sandee Kastrul, CEO  of i.c.stars. “Through its direct connection with two of the region’s foremost civic organizations  focused on economic development, all those who participate in The Ladder will enjoy  networking and education opportunities that reach far beyond the traditional mentor-mentee  relationship.” 

The structure of The Ladder will be similar in many ways to the two other mentorship programs  that are part of the Chicago Innovation structure: 

  • Ageless Innovators is based on the premise that both older innovators and younger  innovators have something to teach and something to learn. So they are brought together  in an intergenerational co-mentoring program. 
  • The Women’s Mentoring Co-op is designed to advance the opportunities available to  women who are early in their careers. The program pairs them with women who are  established leaders drawn from a cross-section of industries in the Chicago region in a  mentoring relationship. 

A distinctive feature of each of the mentoring programs is that all participants have the  opportunity to take part in the entire array of networking and education programs offered through  Chicago Innovation. Last year there were more than 50 such events involving more than 12,000  people. In addition, alumni of each program remain connected over time through special  programming designed for them. 

“We believe The Ladder has the potential to play an important part in building the capacity of  Black and Latinx innovators in the Chicago region,” said Tanen. “The result will be a more  diverse array of talented people playing an even greater part in growing the region’s economy.” 


Contact: Alex Milinazzo 720-838-0330 or

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