Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE)

Can you measure innovation? Greater Milwaukee Committee initiative to make the intangible tangible

From The Milwaukee Business Journal
Published November 27, 2015

Spearheaded by Marquette University president Mike Lovell, the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Innovation in Milwaukee initiative (MiKE) is exploring the potential in measuring what is generally considered to be an intangible quality — innovation.

As the Milwaukee Business Journal has frequently written, “innovation” may be a near-constant business buzzword, but it’s not the easiest to define. Indeed, we’ve tried. But MiKE is exploring a specific set of measurements, which form an “innovation index” meant to make the concept more concrete.

“The idea behind the innovation index is to allow us as a region to look at how innovative we are. We’ll be more focused on initiatives to improve our innovation,” Lovell said. “The competitiveness of the region will just get better.”

The metrics are essentially a regionalized version of the widely regarded Global Innovation Index. The index would measure how Milwaukee stacks up on four key metrics: human capital, the resources and support available to entrepreneurs, productivity/employment and economic well-being. An overview is available here.

A Letter from the President: November 2015

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.



Julia Taylor

​Commons student, corporate accelerator changing course after second class debuts

From The Milwaukee Business Journal
Published November 23, 2015

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.

Read the full article here.

Demo Day showcases progress of The Commons’ first class

From BizTimes
Published November 23, 2015

After 10 weeks of assembling business models, prototypes and market research, student startup teams under The Commons presented their masterpieces-in-progress during a Demo Day event held Sunday at Ward4 Milwaukee.

The event gave all 11 teams a chance to show off the strides they have made since launching their efforts in September.

For some, Demo Day also opened up an opportunity to pitch their ideas in hopes of garnering additional financial support and establishing key connections in the startup space.

The 11 teams enrolled in The Commons over the last two months represent the first official class of the entrepreneurial skills accelerator, which is a project of Startup Milwaukee and Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE).

The Commons, announced in August 2014, marries academia with industry as it gives college students from regional institutions a platform to begin building early-stage companies as well as learn from executives at companies like Direct Supply and Brady Corporation.

The accelerator, open to any student from participating schools, kicked off with a pitch event in September, during which select student entrepreneurs and companies explained their ideas to a room full of students.

About 65 students threw their entrepreneurial ambitions into the first class, with five student teams focused on fleshing out startup ideas and six other teams centered on finding solutions to fit the needs of local companies.

Read the full article here.


Robotic health coaches and ideas from objects illustrate innovation at work in Milwaukee

From the Milwaukee Business Journal
Published October 7, 2015

With technology and societal advances disrupting industries daily, the topic of how to survive as a business in an ever-changing world weighs heavy on the minds of many in the Milwaukee area.

To deal with that topic head on, about 200 people packed the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee’s 3rd Ward Wednesday morning to hear about practical examples of merging innovation and creativity to build a stronger economy.

Read the full article about Walk the Talk here.

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