Milwaukee 7 (M7) Economic Development
756 N. Milwaukee St., Suite 400
Milwaukee, WI, 53202
Executive director: Pat O’Brien
Counties: Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha
Population: 2 million
MAJOR EMPLOYERS: A.O. Smith, Bon-Ton Department Stores, Briggs & Stratton, Caterpillar, Fiserv, GE Healthcare Technologies, Harley-Davidson Inc., Johnson Controls, Kohl’s Corp., Manpower Group, Marcus Corp., MillerCoors, Modine, Northwestern Mutual, Quad/Graphics Inc., Rockwell Automation, S.C. Johnson & Son, Snap-On, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, WEC Energy Group
Major industries: banking and finance, educational and health services, government, manufacturing, information services, insurance, leisure and hospitality, printing, professional and business services
Largest airport: General Mitchell International
Largest seaport: Port of Milwaukee
Colleges and universities: Alverno College, Bryant & Stratton College, Cardinal Stritch University, Carroll University, Carthage College, Concordia University-Wisconsin, DeVry University, Gateway Technical College, High-Tech Institute-Brookfield, ITT Technical Institute-Greenfield, Kaplan College, Marquette University, Medical College of Wisconsin, Midwest College of Oriental Medicine, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Mount Mary University, Nashotah House, Ottawa University-Milwaukee, Sacred Heart School of Theology, Sanford-Brown College, University of Phoenix-Milwaukee Campus, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, UW-Whitewater, UW Center – Washington County, UW Center – Waukesha, Waukesha County Technical College, Wisconsin Lutheran College, Wisconsin School of Professional Psychology
Fostering a strong entrepreneurial environment through startup businesses and innovative firms is crucial to ongoing economic growth in southeastern Wisconsin. In a state that already lags in new startup activity, the M7 region has traditionally been outperformed by the Madison area.
To kick start a much-needed change in mindset – and dramatically increase the number of startups here – concerted efforts are being made to culturally embed entrepreneurial endeavors into the region’s economy.
According to Jeanne Hossenlopp, vice president of research and innovation at Marquette University in Milwaukee, the seeds for entrepreneurial growth need to be planted early.
“We’re trying to generate a culture on campus of new thinking,” Hossenlopp said.
Marquette’s Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship fosters new ventures, encourages innovation and promotes entrepreneurship. The center traditionally has supported students in Marquette’s College of Business Administration but is being transformed into a resource for students throughout campus who have entrepreneurial goals.
Among its many efforts, Marquette has launched a strategic innovation fund, which provides seed money to students, faculty and staff to explore entrepreneurial ventures.
Marquette also offers entrepreneurship as an undergraduate major and minor in the College of Business Administration, a program in social entrepreneurship, classes in the MBA program and close ties to a network of alumni and startup experts who lend their expertise.
Hossenlopp also pointed to The Commons, a unique, entrepreneurial skills accelerator program, to serve students attending colleges and universities in southeastern Wisconsin. The Commons supplements on-campus learning with real-world projects, which she described as a “cutting-edge model.”
An ecosystem for entrepreneurship is forming in the region to give students the skills and mindset to be successful entrepreneurs, said V. Kanti Prasad, dean of the Lubar School of Business at the University of
“Entrepreneurship isn’t just learning a set of skills. You also need practical aspects and to be inspired by other entrepreneurs – and to learn how to take calculated risks,” Prasad said.
To that end, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is constructing the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship, an $8 million, 28,000-square-foot building that’s expected to be operational by early 2018. The center will offer programming in entrepreneurship and focus on improving the success rate of small businesses in the area.
Scale Up Milwaukee, which works with small businesses to promote growth, plans to move its headquarters into the center.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s offerings include an entrepreneurship certificate program, where students are taught how to assess new business opportunities, obtain financial resources, market and start new ventures and manage entrepreneurial ventures for growth and profitability. Students develop a business plan and present it to faculty and entrepreneurs for feedback.
Other efforts geared toward entrepreneurialism at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee include the La Macchia New Venture Business Plan and the James D. Scheinfeld Entrepreneurial Awards competitions, which present cash awards. There’s also an entrepreneurial internship program, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Startup Challenge and the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which meets bi-weekly to support and inspire students who want to be entrepreneurs.
In a state that historically has had much of its economic success tied to manufacturing, entrepreneurialism is taking on greater importance.
“It’s an important part of what we do,” said Pat O’Brien, executive director of the Milwaukee 7, the seven-county economic strategy group. “It definitely has a part in our regional plan. We take a broad view that focuses on growth and innovation as well as startup businesses.”
New and fresh ideas are crucial to a regional economy that has been driven by old-line manufacturing, he said.
“We were an old manufacturing economy that got hit upside the head from the 1970s on and we’ve had trouble, at times, adapting to the new economy,” O’Brien said.
BizStarts, which works with entrepreneurs, service providers, capital connections and other resources to help launch and grow new companies, developed out of the first Milwaukee 7 regional plan.
“It’s taken a huge leap,” O’Brien said. “There is a lot of activity and energy with BizStarts.”
The focus on entrepreneurship isn’t limited to startup businesses; it also includes fostering economic development through innovation in the region, O’Brien said.
New businesses aren’t alone in fostering innovation. Major manufacturers with deep roots in the region, including industrial giants such as Johnson Controls Inc. and Rockwell Automation, which has its headquarters in Milwaukee, are considered innovators in their respective fields, O’Brien said.
“You have to be innovative and develop new products,” he said.