Before the WeWork Creator Awards, Jen Kamins wasn’t sure how Brave Initiatives was going to be able to expand its operations. Now, thanks to funding from WeWork, she and her fellow co-founders will definitely be able to offer more tech training to more young girls.

Brave Initiatives, a Chicago-based nonprofit which provides tech training bootcamps to high school girls, received a WeWork Creator Award along with a $72,000 prize. The award will go toward offering regular bootcamps in a second location, hiring a full-time staffer for the nonprofit and expanding its bootcamps to San Francisco and Jamaica, and cover tech support costs, said Kamins, the nonprofit’s co-founder and director of business and corporate relations.

(Credit: Brave Initiatives)

Brave Initiatives was one of 17 organizations that received $1.5 million at the ceremony held in Detroit this week. WeWork awarded Brave Initiatives with a Launch Award, which was aimed at “organizations that needed help getting off the ground.”

“We see girls making decisions about what they want to be when they grow up,” Kamins said, adding that girls tend to become less interested in tech careers in between ages 12 and 14. “We’re trying to give them opportunities right when that’s starting to happen.”

The nonprofit, founded in April 2015, wants to expose girls technology and coding at a time when they begin to seriously consider their career options. The ultimate goal is to introduce girls to a potential profession in technology and ultimately diversify the tech sector with a pool of women diverse backgrounds.

Brave Initiatives provides beginners and intermediate five-day code bootcamps to high school girls, and junior and senior high school girls to serve as mentors to younger students. They also sponsor successful students to go through full 12-week code bootcamps after graduating high school, which further prepares students for jobs. During the Brave Initiative bootcamps, students learn programming languages like Ruby On Rails, Python or JavaScript and design tech tools that impact their communities.

The funds will help to hire a full-time employee to help the nonprofit run smoothly, pay for a more easily accessible location for camp participants and obtain Microsoft and Apple support for the nonprofit’s devices. The funds will also go towards covering the costs for more girls to attend the camp, Kamins added. While the camp costs $650 for one week, and $975 for an entire year of programs (one week of camp and eight workshops), so far every girl has attended every program free of cost.

Since fellow co-founders Emily Harburg and Anna Bethune have connections to San Francisco and Jamaica, respectively, Brave Initiatives will be offering training there in the near future in addition to offering training in a second Chicago location. The second spot hasn’t been chosen yet, but the organization is also considering partnering with Lyft or getting transportation vehicles to pick up attendees that have a harder time traveling to the camp in Chicago’s Near North area. 

Within 13 years, this whole economy is going to flip…how do we really start preparing girls now?

About 75 percent of bootcamp participants come from low-income neighborhoods, while the other 25 percent come for more affluent communities, Kamins said. The organization works with various Chicago high schools including Oak Lawn Community High School, North Lawndale College Prep and Back of the Yards College Prep. As the demand for tech sector employees continues to grow, Kamins said her organization wants to groom girls now for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We try to bring in a mixed group of different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different economic standpoints for all our girls to come in and work with people who are not like them,” Kamins said.

“Within 13 years, this whole economy is going to flip on what the primary job is, so how do we really start preparing girls now for that?”