Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE)

Greater Milwaukee Committee

Funding Received: 2011
Milwaukee, WI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
February 5, 2012

Life is rad. Make it matter.

When our featured speaker Katherine von Jan, CEO of RadMatter, stepped off the plane in Milwaukee last week, she was singing the theme song of Laverne and Shirley. Literally.

“Give us any chance, we'll take it. Give us any rule, we'll break it. We're gonna make our dreams come true. Doin' it our way.”

Ah Milwaukee, home of beer, brats, the Brewers... and now one of the fastest growing tech meetup cities in the world. Not exactly what you think of when you picture Laverne and Shirley.

But that’s why we like to play host in Milwaukee. We’re not the type of city to boast about our vast creative assets (4.2% of all regional jobs are in the creative industries), so we get a kick out of seeing visitors’ reaction to our fair city. Sure, the beer is inexpensive, especially if you order a good ol' PBR, but the city is filled with gems like the Iron Horse Hotel, a century-old warehouse filled with custom artwork, including floor to ceiling murals of local women, in fashion-forward, provocative images.

We were lucky enough to snag von Jan for a few days to speak about her company,
RadMatter, a digital talent scout that matches students and companies for epic success. RadMatter creates a place for students to tackle real challenges for the most coveted brands in the world.

A bit of a futurist, von Jan believes that in order for learning to be effective, it needs to have the excitement and engagement of a really great game. After all, if you deconstruct the fun in any game, you’ll find that what makes it enjoyable is the challenge. And what is a challenge but a built-in learning process?

In order to progress in a game, you must learn. When you actively engage with a game, your mind is experiencing the pleasure of grappling with (and coming to understand) a new system. This is true whether the game is considered “entertainment” (e.g., World of Warcraft) or “serious” (e.g., an FAA-approved flight simulator).

Von Jan is looking to harness the power of well-designed games to redefine training, interviewing and recruitment, the result being a group of highly motivated learners who avidly engage with and apply problem-solving skills.

As part of her visit, von Jan ran a group of students and professionals through an hour-long workshop. Each team selected an area of focus and built a challenge statement for college students to respond to.

One team, led by Ricky Bellows, President and Founder of Gigga-bites, created this challenge:

“Find ways to enjoy new media without distraction. We're all distracted—when we watch TV we have internet on, text and more. We're a media company that wants your full attention. What do we need to do to capture your full attention and get you to turn everything else off?”

Bellows is dead on. Schools and offices are filled with people who have never known a world without videogames, cell phones and the internet. And because of that, people habitually divide their attention among several things at once.

Competition for the fractured attentions of students and employees is tougher than it’s ever been. We see it every day ourselves—when’s the last time you sat through a staff meeting without at least one (if not all) of your co-workers checking their email? In this environment, unidirectional training such as lectures, manuals, workbooks, videos, and online, click-through reading material can quickly lose preoccupied target audiences.

The chronic problem of how to win students’ attention in order to teach has become acute. Well-designed digital games—complete with realistic settings and compelling narratives—are able to cut through distractions and engage people in a way that few other methods can.

As passive training methods grow antiquated, von Jan is drawing attention to a changing workforce that lives an ever more interactive, multimedia, user-controlled lifestyle. MiKE in many ways is trying to do the same thing by drawing attention to outdated processes and establishments (whether it’s a run-down mall in downtown Milwaukee or a water meter) and find ways to utilize fresh thinking to create something not only new, but truly rad.