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These scholars all chose to begin their post-collegiate careers in Milwaukee - even though that was not their initial plan.

The Commons: How to retain MKE students through innovative programming

Milwaukee has a great college ecosystem but has had trouble retaining talent over the years, a trend that needs to be reversed in order for our city to grow. Lately, I have noticed a lot of momentum: new developments, programming and business growth within our city.

Case in point: I had the opportunity to sit down with three recent graduates who participated in The Commons Innovation Fellowship Program. These scholars have all chosen to begin their post-collegiate careers in Milwaukee, even though that was not their initial plan.

What is The Commons?

The Commons is an organization that facilitates collaboration between a growing network of southeast Wisconsin colleges and universities, the local business community, and entrepreneurs. Their program blends student startup ventures with corporate innovation and has over 550 mentoring professionals that give students a truly unique, real-world experience. Since starting in 2014, the program has engaged over 1,850 students and 550 local mentors that have worked together on over 100 different startup and corporate innovation projects for Milwaukee area businesses including global brands like Briggs & Stratton and ManpowerGroup.

The conversation

The three Innovation Fellows featured on the podcast are Olivia Menzia, Tara Rahmani and Ahmed Ali. Their diverse backgrounds, unique skillsets and self-determination are a great representation of what The Commons stands for.

Olivia grew up in the Chicago area and came to Milwaukee to attend Marquette University where she started her own vegan ice cream business, Liv a Little. Initially, Olivia planned to move out to Seattle post-graduation, but the invaluable connections she made through The Commons and Milwaukee's sweet treats community have paved a path of opportunity too good to leave behind.

Tara grew up in Milwaukee and attended MSOE to pursue engineering. Her post-collegiate plan was to head to the coast but landed an opportunity with BLNK Slate Media, a local content creation startup.

Ahmed came to Milwaukee from the Twin Cities to attend UW-Milwaukee with intentions to leave for a bigger city post-graduation. His time with The Commons pulled him outside the Milwaukee that he knew and opened his eyes to many of the city's hidden gems. Recently, launched his own embroidery brand, Midwest Cowboy.

On the podcast episode, we discuss their perceptions of Milwaukee as college students and after The Commons Innovation Fellowship Program, what it's like being a minority woman in the Milwaukee business community, starting businesses as college students and more!


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