The Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition (MKE Tech) is a non-profit that was formed a year ago with six initial founding members. Today, there are 65 members focused on inclusively doubling tech talent in the Milwaukee region. Flyover Future spoke with Kathy Henrich, MKE Tech’s CEO, to find out what they’re doing and how they take a deliberate approach to inclusiveness.
Tell us about MKE Tech.
Henrich: The Milwaukee region already has over 80,000 tech workers and about 2,000 tech businesses, which surprises most people. We are continuing to grow those numbers through our work.
We have the expectation that all our programs have at least 50% diversity. We approach this in a holistic manner. We look at in terms of ‘How do you build demand for jobs while at the same time matching that with the right supply?’
Part of that involves enabling a robust startup ecosystem. We do it through a startup incubator, a reverse pitch competition, etc., but also by really connecting the region.
Lastly, our focus is around recruitment and growth of tech companies.
What is your background?
Henrich: I worked for IBM for 30 years. While there, I went back to school and got a masters in workforce and talent development with a focus on AI and automation. I helped IBM set strategies around the future of work. After that I did consulting work with individual organizations as they went through the digital transition.
Can you give us some examples of what MKE does?
Henrich: We run an idea-stage incubator, where you can literally come in with a problem you want to be able to solve with technology and we’ll help you figure it out—going from is there a market for this product to how do you develop the product to how do you pitch the product, etc. In 2020, we had 115 people in the program. We had 45 new businesses formed as a result. We had 65% diversity in historically underrepresented populations.
We also do a reverse pitch where we have corporations that are actually pitching out challenges and leveraging the startup community to help them innovate and solve those challenges. There’s $10,000 in prize money but up to $100,000 in corporate investment. It’s a great way for a new company to get financial footing.
We’re very involved in K-12 tech education. We did strategic planning with seven school districts in the region to help them set goals and plans for inclusive computer science education. We collaborated with nonprofits to figure out how they could meet those demands.
We also have partnered to build capacity for reskilling, including an apprenticeship program and a reskill collaborative that allows us to harness the power of multiple parties to reskill individuals.
Any new goals for MKE Tech?
Henrich: The goal is to continue to grow scale through partnership including our corporate members, non-profits, government, and economic development partners. Collectively we can have a huge impact in the region.