RACINE — The two U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals awarded to Angel Ramos-Ortiz showed the military’s gratitude for his initiative and prowess in information technology.
Those qualities have also served Ramos-Ortiz well as a civilian. The boy who grew up in the San Juan projects in Puerto Rico now owns a 10-person IT company, Innovative Design Networks. IDN will soon open its new headquarters and operations center Downtown, at 610 Sixth St.
The firm is an IT system integrator and support provider, focusing foremost on schools.
“We set up the (IT) infrastructure from the ground up,” Ramos-Ortiz said. That can include Internet connections, all data wiring, email server, phone systems, key access controls, security systems and more.
The technological world in which Ramos-Ortiz now earns his livelihood is night-and-day different than the one that surrounded him in San Juan’s projects where murders were common and drug-dealing rampant. Although not a delinquent, he called himself “a troubled kid.”
“Education was not my main focus until I came to the U.S.,” Ramos-Ortiz said.
His mother had previously sent his older brother to live in Racine when, on Oct. 31, 1991, she sent Ramos -Ortiz to “visit” him.
“I think she did it intentionally,” he said, because her second son also ended up staying.
New life, new adventures
Starting as a Case High School freshman, Ramos-Ortiz applied himself to school, wrestled successfully at 103 pounds and won an academic scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. There he earned a degree in computer science and Spanish — the latter because of his love of literature and poetry. After college he earned numerous IT certifications.
“Technology just came naturally to me. That was my passion.”
Ramos-Ortiz enlisted in the Marine Corps, his intended career, though he could have entered as an officer.
“I always wanted to be a Marine, and because I had such a rough life, pretty much I wanted to earn (an officer’s rank).”
An infantryman, Ramos-Ortiz was never sent into combat but made big contributions after being made a company clerk. Seeing operational inefficiencies, he set about building a whole new system and company database and automating reports. That earned the corporal his first medal, in December 2000.
The Secretary of the Navy’s certificate states in part, “Ramos-Ortiz’s exemplary technical knowledge, initiative and ability to accomplish several missions simultaneously, directly contributed to the combat readiness of the company.”
Then, Ramos-Ortiz said, “I implemented the same system at the battalion level,” earning his second medal. The certificate reads in part, “Sgt. Ramos has accelerated the computer operations of the Battalion Landing Team into the 21st century.”
After 4 1/2 years in the Marine Corps, Ramos-Ortiz volunteered to help set up IT systems for Racine’s former San Juan Diego Middle School. There he met Jerome O’Callahan, owner of the Muskego-based IT firm Advanced Open Systems.
“Eventually, I bought all of his clients,” Ramos-Ortiz said, and built IDN from that client base.
His brother, Jorge Figueroa-Ortiz, and sister, Marangelie Ramos-Ortiz, work for him now.
After closing a former Milwaukee office, he recently bought the two-story 610 Sixth St., which is in the midst of a $210,000 overhaul. He had an $18,000, 2.8-kilowatt rooftop solar system installed to help offset the heavy electrical load his company will pull.
And Angel Ramos-Ortiz, now 34, did it all without having to take out one loan.
He plans to continue building IT systems for schools, primarily new charter schools and parochial schools, and seek more government contracts.
Meanwhile, remembering his humble origins, he does lots of charity work for the less fortunate.
“I’m trying,” he said, “to bring technology to those who need it the most.”