Our Innovation in Milwaukee, or MiKE, initiative is making great strides in connecting companies and organizations with our region’s talent, whether college students, young entrepreneurs, freelancers or seasoned professionals. In 2015, MiKE’s major programming included Walk the Talk, in collaboration with Creative Alliance Milwaukee and attended by 250; Destination Innovation, which flew college students via Southwest to the Kohl’s Innovation Center in California to pitch their ideas; and the third annual 180 Reverse Job Fair during YPWeek, where MillerCoors, Quad/Graphics, Zywave, Associated Bank and Harley-Davidson pitched young professionals on their companies.
MiKE’s premiere program, The Commons (in collaboration with Startup Milwaukee), saw 140 students participate in the 2014 pilot program. The Commons is a cross-university program promoting the applied use of entrepreneurial teachings, providing an opportunity for students to explore innovation in a supportive low-risk environment, serving as a source of talent for area businesses looking to work with and hire the city’s emerging thinkers and playing a pivotal role in economic development and job creation in Southeast Wisconsin.
This past weekend, The Commons hosted Demo Day to celebrate the achievement of its second class of students. These 65 students participating in both startup and corporate innovation teams presented on the work they had done with their teams through the 10-week program. Rather than making financial asks, students asked for feedback and requested connections to other talent who could help further develop their projects. Corporations teaming up with students in this cohort included Briggs & Stratton, Kohl’s Corporation, Direct Supply and Brady Corporation.
In addition to the Demo Day presentations, most corporate teams had the opportunity to present their projects to the staff, including CEOs and higher-level leadership, of the companies with which they were paired. By providing this kind of experience to students and companies, The Commons hopes to continue improving the chances that students will look for jobs and business opportunities right here in Wisconsin.
Moving forward, The Commons team plans to continue developing and fine tuning the program curriculum, hire a full-time entrepreneur-in-residence to implement programming, increase the size of each class and develop a student database.
The Commons is making a serious impact on our region. Already, Milwaukee companies have hired students both for full-time positions and internships. Fourteen of the 23 academic institutions involved in The Commons are providing financial support for The Commons, and five are providing academic credit to the students involved. Marquette University also provided a $50,000 Innovation Fund grant.
If you’d like to hear more about or get involved with The Commons, please contact Michael Hostad.