Project Milwaukee: Innovation

Some leaders believe "thinking outside of the box" is an important tool for economic growth that helps to create new products, processes and services. While Milwaukee's history is steeped in innovation, today the state ranks low in the generation of new ideas and products.

Project Milwaukee: Innovation - How Do We Compete? examines the status of innovation here, its value and the factors that are laying the groundwork for the city's future success. We'll talk with entrepreneurs, investors, educators and others about Milwaukee's assets and challenges. And, we'll learn about some of the big ideas coming out of Milwaukee.

You can listen to news reports and Lake Effect interviews March 11-18.

Ways to Connect

Peter Kim / Fotolia

In our Project Milwaukee: Innovation: How Do We Compete? series, we’ve been exploring the challenges that innovation faces in Wisconsin. 

In 2007, film industry supporters and filmmakers were able to take advantage of a tax credit program designed to lure filmmakers to the state of Wisconsin. The program offered tax credits of 25 percent for production spending and 15 percent for infrastructure.

scaleupmilwaukee.org

One deterrent to would-be new businesses is the fear of not being prepared in the beginning stages before the company has even made a name for itself.  Scale Up Milwaukee is one local organization working to aid entrepreneurs and innovators at the early stages of their business plan. Its "Scalerator" program is a six-month, seven-session training program that aims to teach business owners how to inject growth into their ventures.

PDS

Local colleges and universities are key players in developing the talent start-up and existing businesses are looking for. Still, the region has some way to go before all of the top talent is homegrown.

Rachel Morello

If anything has become clear during WUWM's week of coverage on innovation, it’s this: Milwaukee needs creative minds.

School can be the first place to open and shape those minds, yet with everything else classrooms aim to teach these days, where do creativity and innovation fall on the priority list?

When we think of the word “creativity,” things like music and art might come to mind. But the definition of “creativity” is much broader than craft. In today’s world, it’s about ideas.

Michelle Maternowski

Cultivating talent and collaboration quickly surfaced as central themes of WUWM's Project Milwaukee panel discussion on innovation and the economy. Insiders shared ideas for how Milwaukee can become and remain competitive in innovative fields.

Researchers at companies and universities may be tempted to hold their cards close to the vest. But Brian Thompson says in Milwaukee that "silo thinking" will get you nowhere. Thompson heads UW-Milwaukee's Research Foundation.

S Bence

The Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, or M-WERC, is working to add Milwaukee to the energy tech landscape.

The group sprouted out of the interest of three universities and four industrial companies in 2009.

Marquette University

Innovation can be a nebulous topic. People have their own definition of what innovation entails, and it sets each on their own path to fostering creativity.

The same holds true for local colleges and universities. In examining their own role in fostering innovation across the city, each school has its own mission.

Even so, if you talk to higher education leaders in Milwaukee, the word “innovation” almost always comes attached to another word: "collaboration."

Cooperation and partnership drive many of the initiatives on the city’s biggest campuses.

S Bence

Historically, water was key to Milwaukee’s booming innovative and industrial successes. Now there’s a concerted push to position Milwaukee as a water technology hub.

Hensley Foster is part of the action. His career as an industrial engineer stretched across four decades, but he says when it ended, his creative juices were far from tapped out.

LaToya Dennis

Study after study ranks Wisconsin poorly when it comes to the number of new startups. In fact, the Kauffman Foundation puts the state last on its list when it comes to the number of business start-ups.

When you think about a place to start a new tech business, Milwaukee might not be the city that comes to mind.

bonoboconservation.com

For our Project Milwaukee: Innovation - How Do We Compete? series, the scientific community has been highlighted for its work in both research and practice.

Surgeon James Sanger is particularly noteworthy for his work as a plastic surgeon and a hand surgeon. But his patients are noteworthy, too.

Nicole Beilke

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.

Montel Allen

Milwaukee siblings Que and Khalif El-Amin see themselves as innovators. Yet for them, it’s not enough. They want young Milwaukee kids, who might otherwise be left behind or overlooked, to believe they are innovators who just don’t know it yet.

"When we first get to the school, I think a vast majority them don’t see themselves as innovators, but after our workshops and after they see us, I think that builds their confidence up. It builds their knowledge level up," Khalif says.

saintseminole, flickr

Once upon a time, one of the key leaders in innovation in the Milwaukee area was Briggs & Stratton. The Wauwatosa-based manufacturer has been a national leader in building things with small engines, like lawn mowers. But the company ran into problems that many have faced over the last decade.

Michelle Maternowski

Greg Meier's broad experience includes co-founding Global Entrepreneurship Collective as well as Wisconsin's first mentor-driven seed accelerator, 94 Labs. Today, Meier is the Director of the Milwaukee Institute’s Center for Software Engineering. He is also an adjunct faculty member at UW-Milwaukee and Cardinal Stritch University.

Meier has a lot to say about Milwaukee's innovation scene, starting with its history steeped in the economies of scale model.

Rockwell Automation

Generations of Milwaukeeans have appreciated the iconic clock that sits atop Rockwell Automation on the city's south side. It was a gift to the community from one of the original owners of what was the Allen-Bradley Company.

What people may be less familiar with is what has gone on inside the firm that specializes in factory automation. It started 100-some years ago, when Lynde Bradley developed a motor controller into a company that has sold 400,000 discrete products. Today, the company engineers connected systems.

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