Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Over the weekend community leaders in the city of Milwaukee gathered in a round table discussion to talk about the opportunities for growth and improvement in Milwaukee’s Tech Ecosystem. The discussion included people with various backgrounds ranging from corporate social responsibility, tech workforce, founders, and ecosystem/community developers. 

Mayor Johnson and City Commissioner Lafayette Crump pictured at a tech luncheon last week.

It began with a conversation about a recent tech event that was hosted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The event included Mayor Johnson and City Commissioner Lafayette Crump. The group shared their surprise of the lack of diversity in the audience for an event that covered such an important topic. 

When I saw that panel… Whoever put that together forgot to invite the people that looked like Milwaukee. You have the two Black people on the panel but the room didn’t look like the city. When you have a city thats 60% Hispanic, Latino, Latina and Black you should have a room that represents those people. -Ranell Washington Partnership Development Advisor at American Family.

Ranell further went on to say that while we continue to hear people push back about how often Race is brought up in a conversation this event is a good example of why we can not deprioritize the topic. 

This led Shayvon McCullum founder of Secure Bridges to ask the question Why? Shayvon shared that she has observed larger corporations show up to some of the Milky Way Tech Hub events and programs but not support in as significant of a way as they do Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, what Shayvon referred to as a movement that is led by predominantly White people. Shayvon believes money is the driver behind this phenomenon. 

On the topic of DEI, T. J Cobbs, founder of Eclectic Innovations and Director of Enterprise Quality for Milwaukee County shared that she believes many companies work to meet quotas but don’t care much about the outcome of their DEI initiatives. 

Kyle Ashley Engagement Manager at Unite Us

Kyle Ashley community engagement manager at Unite US stated that he believes Milwaukee looks bad when important events are held about developing our city and Black and Brown people are nowhere to be found. 

The conversation progressed toward the topic of ownership and its role in driving equity. 

Ruben Gaona, Co-founder of The Way Out stated “This is the new days.. We belong here. If you feel there is no table for you, then you create your own table and invite people you want to your table and you show them why [that table should exist].

“One thing we need to talk about is the purpose behind why you own…..Your purpose behind what you own something is important. We know what’s happening in our communities.. people are investing for the purpose of making money.. people aren’t at the forefront … it’s about the dollar…..When you are motivated by the mighty dollar how you operate is different than when you come with a passion and a purpose. “ – Ranell Washington

Ayrton speaking about the importance of ownership in Milwaukee’s Tech ecosystem

The group shared that they feel that they own a piece of Milky Way Tech Hub and that when Milky Way Tech Hub wins they win. It was revealed that Milky Way Tech Hub owns the trademark MKE Tech. Monte Eady a  STEM facilitator of Milky Way Tech Hub stated he believes that the hashtag MKE Tech can be used to amplify the voices and brilliance that’s happening in our communities, “We want to bring a little bit of a highlight or a light of what we are doing here.” -Monte Eady founder of Like Minds. The collective felt that having community ownership of #MKEtech will allow for the community to leverage it in a way that boosts the signal of the work that is happening in our communities without dealing with gatekeeping. 

Aryton of MKE Black believes the key to the community feel as though they own a piece of our ecosystem is creating accessible points to ownership. He shared that initiatives like WI Tech Month ” get more torches in people’s hands so that we can have more light in the ecosystem.”  – Ayrton Bryan Executive Director of MKE Black

T. J Cobbs shares her perspective on how to drive representation at events.

Many organizations struggle with increasing representation at their events. Joy Daniels Technology Training Manager at i.c Stars stated “I’m not coming out the house unless I know this is really worth my time”. Joy asserted that too many events have been done over and over again and that it doesn’t inspire people to make the commute anymore. Creativity is the key to inspiring new groups to participate in events. “If you target the most marginalized groups of individuals everyone else benefits from it. If you’re planning an event. Tailor it towards us.. everyone else will follow.” – T.J Cobb 

Qadera Malveux Sr. Staff Risk Advisor at GE Healthcare stated that she believes organizations that are struggling with diversity at their events are likely not addressing what their organization looks like on the inside. “Your’e trying to fix a problem on the outside .. but you have the problem on the inside. Check yourself first.”

Tune into the live streaming of the pre-recorded discussion on linkedin this evening in honor of Martin Luther King Day. You’ll hear how these leaders believe we can establish accountability in Milwaukee’s Tech Ecosystem. 

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