The Commons student and corporate startup accelerator debuted its second cohort of student-led projects and early-stage companies Sunday, and now refocuses as it moves toward a third class.
Sixty-five students from 23 local universities and colleges participated in a “demo day” Sunday, displaying projects and business concepts created over 10 weeks in teams of 11. Rather than the funding request that follows most accelerators’ completion, Commons students’ “ask” was for feedback and connections to customers.
Its spring class pares the program back to nine weeks, focused on a more in-depth curriculum targeted toward engendering creativity, critical thinking, communication and other soft skills.
Companies partnering in the program are Kohl’s Corp., Menomonee Falls, Wauwatosa’s Briggs & Stratton Corp., Milwaukee-based Direct Supply Inc. and new-to-the-team Brady Corp., also based in Milwaukee. The refocus toward soft skills came from student requests and from those companies looking for talent, Commons co-founder Joe Poeschl said.
“(Companies) can teach the hard skills,” he said. “It’s much more difficult to find someone with soft skills.”
In spring 2016, The Commons may add another 10 seats, but without additional funding and resources, Poeschl said, adding its expansion will be slow by necessity.
The Commons is operated by Startup Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE) initiative. It’s currently funded through a combination of support from individual and foundation donors, corporate sponsors and university membership fees.
According to MiKE’s Michael Hostad, 90 students have pre-applied for the Commons’ spring program already. However, he said, its growth requires support, something Hostad and his fellow Innovation in Milwaukee members are actively pursuing.
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