Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE)

Greater Milwaukee Committee

Funding Received: 2011
Milwaukee, WI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months

Innovation in Milwaukee, an initiative of The Greater Milwaukee Committee, was first conceived as a way to align regional assets in advanced manufacturing and global innovation companies by establishing itself as a design, technology and innovation cluster that would surface innovative companies and talent to allow Milwaukee to compete as a world class city. During 2012-2013 MiKE housed many of its programs in the repurposed and revitalized structure of the Grand Avenue Mall, an urban shopping center. As the initiative continued to evolve, MiKE looked to play the role of convener, faciliatory collaborator and inspirer and refocused its mission on creating and supporting programming that convenes corporations, universities and colleges and talent networks to foster the development of an innovative workforce in the greater Milwaukee area.

2012-2013 Program Highlights

  • Milwaukee Innovation Week: Milwaukee Innovation Week, a series of 13 events over five days, was launched in June 2012. The week was made possible through partnerships with over 40 organizations, from Milwaukee’s major corporations to its promising startups. The events drew more than 1,000 people from around the country. Highlights included:
    • COMMON Pitch:  Eight promising startups who are working hard to redefine business in America took the stage at this pitch-meets-party event filled with interactive art experiences. A crowd of 700 filled the historic Turner Hall Ballroom in downtown Milwaukee for a community event celebrating innovation and art.
    • Kohl’s Idea Challenge: Creatives, designers, developers, business-savvy students and professionals had a unique opportunity to work on developing an innovative idea for an integrated retail experience for Kohl’s Department Stores. Eight teams in Milwaukee and seven in Chicago competed for $10,000 in prizes.
    • Collaborative Workshop Tours: In a “Gallery Night”-style event, several collaborative spaces offered tours, displaying unique offerings and hands-on experiences.
  • MiKE Membership Program: At the end of 2012, MiKE rolled out a corporate membership program, limited to a 30 companies who support strengthening connections between talent and businesses to develop solutions to global challenges and foster a culture of innovation in Milwaukee.  In addition to a membership program, MiKE is supported through strategic partnerships with local universities, such as UWM, Marquette University and MIAD, along with BizStarts Milwaukee, ART Milwaukee, Newaukee, Creative Alliance Milwaukee, Bucketworks, Spreenkler Creative, the Wisconsin Technology Council and others. 
  • The Foundry: Modeled after other successful cities, MiKE created a program called “The Foundry.”  Foundry events are held at the home of a successful Milwaukee entrepreneur with an exclusive, highly-curated guest list of investors, entrepreneurs and startups, along with a handful of corporate leaders, who are invested in creating stronger relationships in Milwaukee's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Foundry is the place where hand-crafted connections are made and the foundation for a future Milwaukee is built.
  • Pop-Up Retail Program: MiKE launched a Pop-Up retail program in The Shops of Grand Avenue in downtown Milwaukee on April 26, 2012. In total, the program leased 13 spaces, helping to bring the mall’s total occupancy rate to above 90% (at the beginning of 2011, the mall occupancy was 40%). OPEN MiKE has also been a cornerstone tenant in the mall, helping to bring stability to the repurposed office spaces in the mall’s Plankinton Building.
  • OPEN MiKE -  membership grew to 150 members in 2012, comprised of startup companies and a variety of community organizations and nonprofits, as well as individual designers, artists and developers. MiKE provided more than 20 budding startup businesses with critical services and support to help them establish stronger relationships in the entrepreneurial and business communities. Through MiKE’s network, these startups connected to higher education partners to access design, software development and engineering talent. After a year of operation, OPEN MiKE offered its location as a temporary location to Bucketworks, a membership organization for local independent workers.

2013-2014 Program Highlights

Leveraging the strong foundation built during the first year of programming, MiKE continued to expand its’ programming to provide ways to make meaningful connections and find new opportunities for local talent and businesses to work together. The Greater Milwaukee Committee and MiKE was also awarded a second ArtPlace America grant that launched its creative placemaking project Creational Trails (read more here), a collaboration between several partners including Newaukee, beintween, The City of Milwaukee, MKE<->LAX and Riverworks Development Corporation.

  • Hosted the inaugural Flying Car, an evolution of Innovation Week, that sought to empower innovators in all fields to make the future. Through inspiring presentations, hands-on demonstrations of the year’s most brilliant inventions, and pitch competitions, Flying Car inspires world-changing ideas and helps them launch into market. Throughout the ten days of Flying Car, with the help of over 60 community partners, there were 20 events in multiple locations with attendees from San Francisco, Madison, Minneapolis, Chicago, Lexington and Boston, and 63 startups were showcased.
  • Created One-Eighty, a Reverse Job Fair, showcasing leading and rising Milwaukee companies to an audience filled with professionals, students, companies and more. Companies participating in One-Eighty included Briggs & Stratton, Journal Communications, Kohl’s Corporation, Laughlin Constable, ManpowerGroup, MillerCoors, We Energies and more than 20 startup companies.
  • Presented Intersect, an Innovation Symposium, with the Harvard Business School Club of Wisconsin and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Intersect featured speakers from Harvard, IBM, General Electric Co., Kraft Foods Group and Johnson Controls Inc. Over 200 area leaders attended the conference.
  • Held two corporate challenges for Kohl’s and GE Healthcare, where the companies met individual entrepreneurs and smaller-sized local companies with whom they forged ongoing partnerships.
  • Presented the Corporate Venture Forum with the Scale Up Milwaukee initiative and American Express OPEN. Featured speakers included IBM, American Express Ventures, Manpower, GE Healthcare, Silicon Valley Bank and many entrepreneurial venture partners. 1-800-FLOWERS founder and CEO Jim McCann keynoted the event.

2014 Program Highlights

  • Launched The Commons in collaboration with Startup Milwaukee. The Commons is an entrepreneurial skills accelerator for the students of Southeast Wisconsin's colleges and universities. Augmenting campus learning with hands-on, real-world projects, The Commons provides a fast-track to develop the skills, get the connections and find the mentorship a student needs to start a company or work for the best. Formed by Startup Milwaukee and Innovation in Milwaukee, The Commons has grown into a widespread collaboration between the region's academic, entrepreneurial and business communities. With the mission to attract, develop and retain the brightest minds in the region, we will reshape the economic landscape of Southeast Wisconsin.
  • Hosted the second Annual Flying Car 2014: People-Powered Innovation. In 2014, Flying Car transitioned into a streamlined, three-day conference featuring high-quality content and an expanded scope of presenters and workshops. Through stories from leaders who are shaping the future and hands-on labs where over 300 attendees dug into new fields and explored new ideas, Flying Car was an opportunity to make, learn and connect. The 2014 conference featured keynote speaker Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, 16 engaging workshops showcasing 11 local companies and organizations, 8 world-class speakers, including Allan “Bud” Selig, Major League Baseball commissioner; David Shing, AOL digital prophet; Leilani Munter, American race car driver and environmentalist.
  • Hosted the second annual One-Eighty: A Reverse Job Fair during YP Week. The event showcased 5 local companies to 200+ young professionals looking for jobs and connections in the Milwaukee area. Presenting companies included Harley-Davidson, GE Healthcare, We Energies, Experis and Johnson Controls.

What we’re working on today:

  • The Commons 2015 Fall Program Launch: After a successful pilot program, we are continuing to partner with Startup Milwaukee to offer The Commons programming to Southeastern Wisconsin college students. The Commons has grown into a widespread collaboration between the region’s academic, entrepreneurial and business communities. Moving forward, The Commons will offer three to four sessions each year and students will have the opportunity to work on either a student-led startup project or a corporate innovation challenge provided by local business partners.
  • Inaugural Walk the Talk Conference: In the initial stages if planning the third iteration of Flying Car, MiKE determined that it would be most beneficial for its own resources and for the larger community to join forces with another local organization, Creative Alliance Milwaukee, to create a new, collaborative conference. Walk the Talk is a dynamic and fresh approach to the conference experience for Milwaukee. The theme of this year's conference is the Intersection of Creativity and Innovation and will include keynotes and workshops throughout the Third Ward and Walker's Point neighborhoods that move our community from just talking about these topics to taking action. 
  • Project Economy: In collaboration with Lush Production, MiKE has spent the last year conducting initial research on the independent workforce with collaborators in Philadelphia, PA and Charlotte, NC through funding from the Knight Foundation. This initial work examined the difference and similarities of the independent workforce and its needs for coworking spaces in the three different cities. 
    • Supported through additional funding from the Knight Foundation, MiKE and Lush Production have launched the Gig.Work project to explore the evolution of work. The core question being explored is this: How is the experience of work evolving to reflect our networked and technological society? This question will be examined through the lens of project economy from the perspectives of the worker, the employer, and the overall economic system. Project economy (AKA “gig economy,” “on-demand economy,” and “sharing economy”) refers to a structural shift in the work experience away from “jobs” and toward “projects” or “gigs.” Such work is typically volatile and networked in nature and the experience frequently extends to traditional full-time (W-2) positions as well.


See below for recent updates, press, and events from this project

Mar 17, 2016
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MiKE, launched by the Greater Milwaukee Committee, ignites Milwaukee’s innovative talent to develop creative solutions for businesses and to fuel startups. MiKE is committed to... Read More
MiKE is an economic development cluster initiative launched by the Greater Milwaukee Committee. Focused on aligning existing assets and attracting new ones, MiKE is developing... Read More
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50 Design Entrepreneurs Present at OPEN MiKE Designers are used to working for clients, but there is nothing more freeing than when the client is... Read More
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MiKE made a lot of new friends, including entrepreneurs, artists, developers, designers, social media gurus, business owners and corporate executives, at a public event held... Read More
If I said the words “interface” and “innovation” what images come to mind? Probably not a lawn mower. At companies like Briggs & Stratton ,... Read More
Open Design & Innovation shows how to grow the economy. (There’s an app for that.) Milwaukee is well-known as the machine shop to the world... Read More