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Their vision: schoolchildren in north Minneapolis building business websites

Brad von Bank and Kristin Pardue created an after-school academy for web-development and digital-marketing training.

Kristin Pardue and Brad von Bank

Brad von Bank and Kristin Pardue envision an army of schoolchildren fanning out across north Minneapolis to build websites for local businesses. With the money they earn, they open an online T-shirt shop. The earnings from the shop go toward bringing along the next group of kids.

It’s an inspirational vision. And this husband-and-wife team appear to have the business chops to pull it off.

Pardue and von Bank are both former high-level executives with major Twin Cities corporations: she the director of process improvement at the Carlson Companies, he one of the top technology and information management directors at Target Corp.

Since 2010, they’ve been partners in Rêve Consulting (pronounced “rev”), helping companies develop and execute corporate growth strategies centered on technology.  They’ve worked with clients including Caribou Coffee and Capella University.

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OK, they’re a couple of sharp business consultants. But how many business consultants have created and self-funded an after-school academy that will give training in web development and digital marketing this year to 200 kids from north Minneapolis?

Rêve Academy offers after-school and summer programs through Kipp: Stand Academy and Sojourner Truth Academy. This fall, the program will expand to five schools.

Von Bank got involved in north Minneapolis more than a decade ago through his church. He lived in the neighborhood for several years and helped arrange more than 500 donated computers for schools and community organizations. But he wanted to have a different kind of impact.

“We have been taking a liability approach to north Minneapolis,” von Bank said. “Keep the kids out of gangs, keep them off drugs. But I believe we can take an asset approach. If we can start these kids on a pathway in middle school, I believe they will become assets who can lead us into the future.”

There’s business analysis behind the approach, as well. The Twin Cities’ population growth is no longer coming from its European and Scandinavian base. People of color are the leading components of growth. Yet the Twin Cities rank among the worst metro areas in the nation in the black/white educational achievement gap and employment gap.

The implication, von Bank said, is that Twin Cities companies may face a future in which they can’t find enough qualified workers — unless those gaps are closed. Teaching kids about technology and business at a young age is one way to make a start.

“At Target, we had 700 people building the biggest e-commerce re-platforming in history,” he said. “But for our community service, we would go in and paint houses. Good work, valuable work. But we could have built 10 websites for local businesses and completely changed things.”

Now he and Pardue are going to teach neighborhood kids how to build those websites for local businesses, and then how to use their knowledge to create e-commerce businesses of their own. They’ll soon launch a fund-raising effort to help support the academy, which to date has been funded from their own pockets.

“It’s a great adventure,” Pardue said. “We wake up excited every day.”