Starting from a bag of coffee, Converge MKE seeks to boost region’s well-being


Last updated on April 27th, 2020 at 02:14 pm

At first glance, Converge MKE’s mission seems simple. Businesses and consumers buy products and care packages from local companies and a portion of the sale goes to the MKE Responds Fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

Todd McLees, principal at Milwaukee-based management consulting firm Pendio Group and one of Converge MKE’s founders, said the mission is actually simple, but it goes beyond selling products and raising funds.

“We’re here to help the region emerge stronger from the crisis. To do that, we’ll have to adapt, reimagine, and converge faster than ever,” said McLees. “Milwaukee is a city and region that knows and understands change. Converge Milwaukee is a platform to shape the collaborative effort needed to solve new challenges in the next normal.”

The group’s first initiative is the artisan market, which is anchored by a limited edition Resilience Roast from Milwaukee-based Pilcrow Coffee. A one-pound bag sells for $18 with $3 going to the MKE Responds Fund.

That bag of coffee was the first idea when McLees and Matt Cordio of Skills Pipeline and Startup Milwaukee started talking about Converge MKE a few weeks ago. Their efforts have since expanded to include products from Evolve Brands, Indulgence Chocolatiers, Milwaukee Pretzel Co., The Naked Baker, Pontem Milwaukee, Satori Food Project, Sprecher Brewing and Paper Pleasers.

A number of other entrepreneurs and community leaders have also signed on to the effort, including Beth Ridley, Burton Betz, Erikajoy Daniels, Erik Kennedy, Ian Abston, Jamie Miller, Jeff Sherman, JP Burkwald, Dr. Malika Siker and Richie Burke.

The idea is that businesses could buy care packages made up of local products to send to their employees who may be struggling to navigate the new normal of work during the coronavirus crisis.

McLees said the goal is to help protect the well-being of the region’s workforce, sustain small businesses and help individual families in need.

“There’s a lot of, I think, fear, people are feeling isolated, people are feeling left out or they’re unsure what to do,” Cordio said. “We want to provide a resource, provide hope and work on building resiliency in the region.”

Cordio said the artisan market isn’t the end goal of the effort, adding there will be additional digital programing in the coming weeks.

“It’s all about building that resiliency in the community, creating a culture where it’s supportive of one another,” he said.

McLees said there are often three phases of a crisis starting with an initial response, working to emerge stronger and then thriving in the new normal.

“Right now, many businesses are sitting back, still responding, still very much concerned with financial resiliency,” McLees said. “At some point, we have to put our head up and start looking at where the opportunities lie in the next horizon.”

Part of Converge MKE’s work will be to help companies reimagine themselves coming out of the coronavirus crisis.

“There’s going to be a wide spectrum of outcomes here and it’s going to tie back to how we reacted to the crisis, wheat we did to emerge stronger in terms of the organization structure,” McLees said. “In many ways, there are hidden opportunities here for organizations to hit the culture reset button and find ways to thrive during the next normal.”

Ridley, who runs the culture and wellness company The Brimful Life and is a podcast partner of BizTimes, said companies that previously invested in developing positive and inclusive cultures are seeing the benefits as the crisis “really shines a light on and reveals the strengths and weaknesses of leadership.”

“The rate of burnout was pretty much at epidemic levels before this pandemic,” Ridley said. “Those things certainly have not gone away. They’re exasperated as people are figure out the new normal and have new stresses.”

She said leadership and culture will be important for companies as the region emerges from the coronavirus and needs and expectations in the workplace change.

“We’re all struggling and having a hard time,” she said. “My hope is that most of us can change and emerge stronger, at least more informed, out of this so that we didn’t waste the hardship that so many people are experiencing right now.:

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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