The Commons

A Letter from the President: March 2016

In this month’s and other upcoming president’s columns, I’d like to share some personal stories of success stemming from our initiatives.

Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE)

College students try to make the most out of their school experience, and Michael Snowden, a business major at Cardinal Stritch University, is no exception. Michael was one of ten students chosen to participate in MiKE‘s Destination Innovation program, a collaboration with Southwest Airlines and Kohl’s Department Stores. Despite never having flown before, Michael embraced this opportunity to brainstorm with fellow students on the future of customer service and then pitch his ideas to other passengers while at 35,000 feet in the sky.

Michael remains connected to MiKE through our flagship program, The Commons, a skills accelerator that seeks to prepare college students for the 21st century innovation economy. Michael was accepted into the spring 2016 session and is working on one of six student-led startup teams called Doughnation, an app that will allow college students to easily support their favorite nonprofits. Michael and his team will share their final presentation on April 19th at Demo Day.

Another Commons participant, a Mount Mary University student, found a full-time job through The Commons. A communications major with no IT background, Shannon admitted she never would have applied for the job she ended up being offered at Kohl’s. She applied – and was hired – because The Commons gave her an opportunity to show her leadership skills and personality, which easily won over the Kohl’s team, who held the position for her until she finished school. Kohl’s had not often hired graduates from Mount Mary in the past – The Commons connected the dots. Learn more about Shannon here!


Teachtown MKE

One of Teachtown MKE‘s many offerings for our teachers is free tickets to sporting events. After a Marquette University basketball game, one teacher sent us a note:

“I went to the Marquette Game with my daughter last Saturday and it was a great daddy daughter date 🙂 Thanks again for the tickets. Afterwards we went ice skating at Red Arrow Park and ate cake pops and drank coffee! She was so happy!!!! Thanks again, we plan on attending again. ”

Teachtown MKE not only provided this teacher and his daughter with a great experience, but encouraged him to explore downtown and continue attending basketball games.

Scale Up Milwaukee

Matt Carroll of AccuTrans was introduced to Scale Up Milwaukee well before the Scalerator recruitment period began. His business provided a coach and driver for a group of Brazilian emissaries visiting Milwaukee to learn about Scale Up Milwaukee and the activities growing the region’s economy. One year after the introduction, Matt has just completed the Scalerator program and has a growing list of related accomplishments marking his impressive growth. He’s acquired three other coach and limousine companies in just the last three months and received the 2016 Small Business Administration Wisconsin Emerging Small Business Award. All this, and AccuTrans is outperforming Matt’s ambitious projections with revenue that is nearly 90% ahead of the same date last year!

Stay tuned for more stories in coming months, and feel free to pass along any you might have.



Julia Taylor

Project Milwaukee: The Commons Fosters Innovative Skills in College Students

Published March 16, 2016

In order for companies and communities to thrive these days, they must innovate. A program in Milwaukee nurtures talent among college students with hopes of keeping them here. It’s called The Commons.

On a recent Tuesday night, small groups of students are scattered throughout Ward4, the old Pritzloff warehouse just across the river from the Third Ward.

As you move close to one group, you can hear them talking about developing a product to help people with anxiety.

This is how The Commons works. The program accepts local college students studying business, engineering, marketing and design. It puts them into groups – with mentors and gives each a task – either to take on a corporate challenge or develop a start-up company.

Read and listen to the full piece here.

This is why millennials leave Milwaukee – and it’s not the weather: Briggs & Stratton CEO

Published February 25, 2016
From the Milwaukee Business Journal

Forget about the weather, Todd Teske says. The CEO of Wauwatosa manufacturer Briggs & Stratton Corp. said he’s tired of hearing millennials cite the cold weather as the reason they leave Milwaukee after high school or college.

“When you ask them where they’re moving, they say: Minneapolis and Chicago,” Teske said. “So it actually came down to not seeing the opportunities and vibrancy (in Milwaukee).”

Teske is the co-chair of MiKE, Innovation in Milwaukee, an initiative of the Greater Milwaukee Committee working to develop an innovative workforce in Milwaukee. He has been an early leader in the Commons program, which matches college students from local universities with problem-solving opportunities at local companies.Recruiting and retaining young, innovative talent is one of the challenges Briggs & Stratton (NYSE: BGG) is tackling as it works to turn around the company after a 10-year decline. Read more about the manufacturer’s strategy for diversification in Friday’s cover story in our weekly edition.

“I think MiKE is good for the community, and selfishly it’s really good for Briggs,” he said. “We’ve done (the Commons) twice, and both times I’ve been encouraged by the talent and creativity of these people, and it helps our people look at the problems we have.”

Check out the full article 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.

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