Northwestern Mutual confirms creation of innovation lab

Cream City Labs to house VC portfolio companies

A rendering of Cream City Labs.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:04 pm

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. has confirmed it’s creating a new innovation lab at its downtown Milwaukee headquarters campus, in part to house Milwaukee-area startup companies it invests in through its Cream City Venture Capital fund.

A rendering of Cream City Labs. (Rendering:Rinka Chung Architecture)

BizTimes Milwaukee first reported on the innovation lab when Northwestern Mutual Venture Capital last month invested in Milwaukee startup Lumanu, which will move in to the innovation lab. Northwestern Mutual declined to comment fon the lab at that time.

The life insurance and financial services firm said today it is currently converting office space into the 17,000-square-foot lab space on the second floor of its office building at 733 N. Van Buren Street, which will be called Cream City Labs. It is expected to open in August.

Lumanu and fellow Cream City Venture Capital portfolio company Socialeads will be the first startups to move in. The $5 million Cream City Venture Capital was established in 2017 to invest in Milwaukee startups.

Northwestern Mutual said in addition to Cream City Venture Capital portfolio companies, its employees participating in innovation initiatives can work out of Cream City Labs. Northwestern Mutual has an internal innovation program that sometimes results in the creation of internal teams to pursue an idea via an accelerator program.

“We do lots of different types of events, including companywide campaigns to engage our employees and solicit ideas,” said Stig Haagensen, vice president of digital innovation and accelerators at Northwestern Mutual. “We have the employees vote on the ideas and the winning ideas receive funding. Those ideas we build teams around and those teams go into our internal accelerator.”

Cream City Labs will offer co-working space, a kitchen, collaboration areas and a founders lab for experimentation. The portfolio companies will also have access to mentorship, and Northwestern Mutual will host training sessions on design thinking and other techniques to accelerate ideas into the prototype process.

“It’s going to be a very fluid space, with teams moving in and out,” Haagensen said. “At any given time, between 40 and 100 people would be engaged.”

The hope is Northwestern Mutual employees can collaborate with entrepreneurs from the startups housed in the space.

“Cream City Labs will enable our workforce to connect with creative thinkers and digital innovators both within and outside of our company. The lab is a collaborative space that all employees and teams can work in and run experiments to solve problems in new and innovative ways,” the company said in a statement.

In addition, Northwestern Mutual plans to host both internal and community innovation events such as meetups, hackathons and STEM programming. Northwestern Mutual would like to host its Reverse Pitch program again in the space, Haagensen said.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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