Milwaukee-based accelerator The Commons has received a four-year, $250,000 donation from Merill-based Church Mutual Insurance Co. and has formed a partnership with the property and casualty insurer.
The Commons skills accelerator was founded by Innovation in Milwaukee and Startup Milwaukee in August 2014 to give college students from regional institutions a platform to begin building early-stage companies while learning from executives at local companies like Direct Supply and Brady Corp. It now works with 24 colleges and more than 150 mentoring professionals in southeastern Wisconsin.
The donation has been used to hire Startup Milwaukee co-founder Joe Poeschl as a full-time program director at The Commons.
“It’s all been volunteer people running it, so we’ve had people from the Greater Milwaukee Committee and people from Startup Milwaukee,” said Michael Hostad, executive director of Innovation in Milwaukee. “We’ve … finally been able to hire Joe into that position so he can get compensated for the work he’s doing.”
This is the first organization based outside of the Milwaukee-Madison area to invest in the program. But Church Mutual president and chief executive officer Richard Poirier has Milwaukee ties. He’s a Marquette University alumnus and Alan Leverett, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group, serves as chairman of the Church Mutual board.
“This program allows us to get students on the right path to a solid career,” Poirier said. “This program can help produce qualified candidates to feed Wisconsin’s workforce pipeline, help retain talent and define an entrepreneurial culture for central Wisconsin.”
The partnership will connect The Commons with central Wisconsin and Church Mutual with Milwaukee, Hostad said.
“We’re working on getting them talent,” he said. “It’s letting people know that insurance can be exciting and innovative and that there’s great opportunities there. Like all of our companies that participate in The Commons, they just want to see the breadth of the student pool and see if there are students that are going to be a fit for what they’re looking for in their organization.”
Church Mutual, in partnership with the Wausau Chamber of Commerce, Northcentral Technical College and eight colleges in central and northcentral Wisconsin, has its own student accelerator program called The Branch. Through the partnership, The Commons will advise on that program’s curriculum and programming.
“It gives us partnerships with academic institutions up there, as well as the business community, through Church Mutual,” Hostad said.