Last week, from Tuesday through Sunday, Milwaukee’s startup silos were buzzing with activity.
Nearly 2,600 local entrepreneurs and people interested in one day starting their own businesses attended talks, workshops and networking events at various locations around the greater Milwaukee area, including the Global Water Center at 247 W. Freshwater Way; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Innovation Accelerator in Wauwatosa; and the Ward 4 co-working space in the Pritzlaff Building near downtown Milwaukee.
The series of events were part of the first-ever Milwaukee Startup Week, the largest startup-focused event series to be held in the city to connect entrepreneurs, investors and local business and government leaders, while at the same time educating them on what their peers are up to in the area.
Hosted by Startup Milwaukee, a nonprofit organization that connects local entrepreneurs with resources to help them launch or grow digital companies, its organizers initially hoped around 1,200 people would attend the week-long series of events. Once people began registering for events online, they thought it was possible as many as 1,500 people would attend.
They did not expect the turnout to more than double their initial expectations.
“We didn’t think we’d have that many entrepreneurs or wanna-be entrepreneurs in the area, and also that our ecosystem was actually that big,” said event co-organizer Ed Javier, a local startup consultant. “That’s one of the things you never know with entrepreneurs and also the startup world — it’s kind of difficult to gauge who’s actually out there and trying to start something on their own.”
The Milwaukee area, and Wisconsin as a state, have both ranked low on multiple lists measuring startup activity and job growth this year. Part of the reason Javier and co-organizer Matt Cordio, decided to organize a startup week was to foster a stronger local startup culture and bring together different groups or silos of entrepreneurs and investors that have thus far been working in isolation from one another to exchange ideas.
Cordio is the founder and chief executive officer of Startup Milwaukee as well as the local IT consulting and talent acquisition firm Skills Pipeline.
“We definitely had an overwhelmingly positive response,” Cordio said. “I think people were extremely grateful that local entrepreneurs had stepped forward to create the event. We did gather attention from other parts of the state and other parts of the Midwest that we were having a startup week here. I think that’s pretty cool. I think it helps brand the region as a place where technology innovation can happen and I view that as a positive outcome for the week.”
Cordio said the week of events was “just the beginning” of local efforts to strengthen the local startup community and that more new programs and events need to start springing up to build off the momentum.
In terms of takeaways from the week of events, Javier said the local startup community is much larger than he and Cordio originally anticipated, but the city still needs more organic startup growth. He said local entrepreneurs and community leaders need to also look for ways to get the city’s corporate community more invested in the local startup community.
“We know we have entrepreneurs here and startups here, but to actually build this even greater, we need to increase the amount of entrepreneurs starting that startup,” Javier said. “What we may look into is how do we get entrepreneurs from other cities up here. The more swings we can take, the greater chance of someone hitting a home run. If we don’t have the numbers we won’t have that high hit count.
“If you look at a lot of the other successful cities there are one or two corporations that are the engine driving commitment to the startup community. Since we’re a manufacturing city here, we don’t have a lot of high tech firms, but at the same time, they all touch technology at some point.”
Cordio said Startup Milwaukee will hold a second startup week in 2017.