Opinion: Is Milwaukee the next great startup hub? Why not?

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

I am a Milwaukee writer who has spent the last year profiling startup businesses in the Milwaukee region as the Startup Storyteller for MKEStartup.News. During this time, I have come to believe that this community is the ideal place to start a new business. With our highly educated population, Midwestern work ethic and existing infrastructure, this city is the perfect place to launch the next Manpower or Milwaukee Tool. We just need to make it happen.

From the invention of the modern typewriter to the creation of individually bottled beer, Milwaukee has led the way in innovative business practices for generations. It is time for us to lead the way again and become the next forerunner in the creation of successful startup businesses.

Why should Milwaukeeans care about startup entrepreneurship?

In a word: money.

New companies are the leaders in job creation and that means more jobs for everyone. These companies attract skilled talent, increasing the tax base and creating new customers for businesses in all sectors. When a startup business succeeds, the whole community benefits.

Better schools, better roads, better maintenance of public land — it could all be ours by fostering startup entrepreneurship in the city.

According to an article published by the Harvard Business Review, cities can attract startups without relying on tax dollars by:

1.      Investing in institutions of higher education as engines of innovations and job creation.

Milwaukee is already doing this — from Marquette’s 707 Hub, The Lubar Entrepreneurship Center at UWM, Concordia’s CU Ventures and the Innovent Center at MSOE, along with many others, campuses across the city are supporting and fostering entrepreneurship

2.      Foster diverse communities. Different voices mean innovative solutions. Milwaukee’s diversity problems are well documented, but change is in the air. Examples of these changes can be seen in the MMAC’s Region of Choice initiative, which is leading Milwaukee businesses to act on their values by pledging to hire a diverse workforce. Other examples include  Northwestern Mutual’s investment in Black founders through its business accelerator program, and in the venture capital firm Gateway Capital that is actively investing in startups founded by members of underrepresented communities. Milwaukee isn’t where it needs to be, but it is moving in the right direction.

 3.      Lastly, cities need to build basic infrastructure to ensure future growth. Milwaukee is in the enviable position of being next to one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world. Our natural resources, paired with our access to broadband, public transit and the many arts and culture experiences available mean we can welcome new businesses, and the new residents that likely follow, without decreasing the quality of life for current Milwaukeeans.

We have the key components to be a destination for startup entrepreneurship, but we need to overcome our Midwestern modesty. Across the board, communities where startups flourish sell themselves.

The changes that need to occur aren’t solely the responsibility of the politicians and city leaders.

We can all do our part to make the city a great place for innovators to turn their dreams into economic powerhouses. We can support our local startups by purchasing their products. Advocate for them by encouraging employers to participate in startup pilot programs. Crowdfunders, angel investors, and others looking to back new companies, there is no need to look to Silicon Valley, or either of the coasts. There are world-class startups in our back yard, waiting for support.

If the idea of Milwaukee becoming the next Boulder, or Austin, or Seattle seems farfetched, think again. Take a second look at what Milwaukee has to offer and ask yourself — why not Milwaukee?

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