Harnessing the strength of the Great Lakes region: Five reasons to attend the 5 LAKES Forum

Editor’s note: This column was co-authored by Kathleen Gallagher, executive director of the Milwaukee Institute, and Matt Cordio, founder of Skills Pipeline, Startup Milwaukee and Startup Wisconsin.

How, we asked, could we help do the important work of forging tighter connections across the Great Lakes region among investors, startups and technologists?

After much consideration we’ve launched our first answer: 5 LAKES Forum.

It’s a one-day technology and entrepreneurship conference that’s happening on Tuesday, May 14 at Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. For this first effort, Milwaukee is the center of gravity. Our vision is to create an experience that attracts a diverse network of people in the Great Lakes region who want to make their big dreams happen here.

We could give you a whole host of reasons to join us. But we’ve decided to focus on some of the most important. Here are five reasons to attend the 5 LAKES Forum.

Better connecting the Great Lakes region ecosystem is critical to our economy’s ability to compete globally. We can’t say this enough. There are 40 million people in California. That state competes well. To mount a similar effort with the same number of people would take Wisconsin plus approximately four other Midwestern states. 5 LAKES Forum is a unique, unprecedented event aimed at helping make that happen.

Founders first is our motto. We know that taking a day away from company-building is a big decision for founders. So we’ve created a no pain, no nonsense, no financial outlay experience for them. Every startup team that applies to pitch in front of investors at the 5 LAKES Forum will receive complimentary admission, whether they’re chosen to pitch or not.

We give you a very modern format. Quick-hit fireside chats that put more great speakers on stage and engage more stakeholders. Cordio went to Utah in January to check out the Silicon Slopes Summit, a two-day tech conference in Salt Lake City that attracts some 20,000 attendees. He came home with a lot of great ideas. One of them highly influenced the way we organized 5 LAKES Forum. Unlike traditional, stale conference formats, 5 LAKES Forum delivers rapid, engaging content sessions that promise to help tech and startup leaders create meaningful connections and navigate high-level business and technology topics.

Speaking of content sessions, it’s the speakers that make them sing. We’re thrilled to feature founders from top startups such as Ionic, G2 Crowd and Clearcover and leaders from organizations such as American Family Ventures, Medical College of Wisconsin, Rexnord, Rockwell Automation, UW Health and more. To do a little name-dropping, you’ll hear from Roy Bahat, future-of-work thought leader and head of Bloomberg Beta, a $150 million venture capital fund; Craig Dickman, founder of Breakthrough Fuel and Managing Director of TitletownTech, the innovation partnership between the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft; and Becky Lang, editor-in-chief of Discover Magazine. Call us biased. Our speakers all are from, or have connections with, the Great Lakes region.

Future focused, that’s the way we approach programming. If the Great Lakes region were a country, it would have the third-largest GDP in the world, said John Austin, a non-resident senior fellow for the Brookings Institution, at an event about the Great Lakes region’s potential. We have the necessary assets; we need to connect them better. Among all of the other amazing speakers, you’ll experience a not-to-miss discussion from Erik Iverson (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) and other technology transfer leaders about the future of innovation in the Great Lakes region.

There you have it. Five of the many reasons for joining us at 5 LAKES Forum. Hope to see you on May 14!

To register for 5 LAKES Forum, go to 5LakesForum.org. If you’d like more information, or if you’re a startup that wants to apply to pitch, email us at Kathleen@mkei.org or Matt@skillspipeline.com.

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