“Hacksters, hipsters, hustlers and handlers”

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“Hacksters, hipsters,
hustlers and handlers”

The Commons

Definition: An organization where students develop entrepreneurial talent and pursue ideas for startup companies.

Strategy: Harness potential at 22 higher education institutions in southeast Wisconsin.

As executive director of Innovation for Milwaukee and co-founder of The Commons, Michael Hostad devotes countless hours to connecting the region’s most entrepreneurial and innovative students with top area companies and venture capitalists. “We need to make sure we have an innovative workforce to support jobs that are being created,” he says. “That is where we’ve found our sweet spot.”

The “sweet spot” known as The Commons was launched after President Michael Lovell hosted a symposium of university leaders on campus in August 2014 to trigger thinking about collaborative opportunities. The idea was universally applauded. The Commons now gathers approximately 80 students from 22 colleges and universities in southeast Wisconsin twice a year.

“We look for the hacksters, hipsters, hustlers and handlers,” Hostad says, noting that they seek students who aspire to build startups or innovate for companies. For hacksters, think engineers. Hipsters are gifted at branding and creating graphics, and hustlers know how to sell and market. Handlers? They keep the projects moving and the trains on the tracks.

“This is about preparing the next-generation workforce for the innovation economy,” Hostad says.

Students attend a kickoff weekend and then meet for nine consecutive weeks to work on real-world projects across disciplines. These encounters build experience and develop fundamental skills necessary to create a successful new venture or innovate within an existing company. “The level of commitment from every campus is remarkable,” Hostad says. “The result is an incredible group of students and talent. We have something special here.”

So special that The Commons is hiring a full-time director and creating a new curriculum and database of all of the connections. — BD

Members of The Commons

• Alverno College
• Bryant & Stratton College
• Cardinal Stritch University
• Carroll University
• Carthage College
• Concordia University
• Gateway Technical College
• Lakeland College
• Marquette University
• Milwaukee Area Technical College
• Medical College of Wisconsin
• Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
• Milwaukee School of Engineering
• Mount Mary University
• UW–Milwaukee
• UW–Parkside
• UW–Sheboygan
• UW–Washington County
• UW–Waukesha
• UW–Whitewater
• Waukesha County Technical College
• Wisconsin Lutheran College

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