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Some leaders believe "thinking outside of the box" is an important tool for economic growth that helps to create new products, processes and services. While Milwaukee's history is steeped in innovation, today the state ranks low in the generation of new ideas and products.Project Milwaukee: Innovation - How Do We Compete? examines the status of innovation here, its value and the factors that are laying the groundwork for the city's future success. We'll talk with entrepreneurs, investors, educators and others about Milwaukee's assets and challenges. And, we'll learn about some of the big ideas coming out of Milwaukee.

Project Milwaukee: El-Amin Brothers Nurture Young Innovators

Montel Allen
YES' Que El-Amin in front of the class.

Milwaukee siblings Que and KhalifEl-Amin see themselves as innovators. Yet for them, it’s not enough. They want young Milwaukee kids, who might otherwise be left behind or overlooked, to believe they are innovators who just don’t know it yet.

"When we first get to the school, I think a vast majority them don’t see themselves as innovators, but after our workshops and after they see us, I think that builds their confidence up. It builds their knowledge level up," Khalif says.

Credit Montel Allen
Khalif El-Amin talking to students about how to execute on their ideas.

The El-Amin brothers co-founded Young Enterprising Society, or YES. It’s a for-profit LLC dedicated to coaxing out the potential in young minds. One way YES reaches them is by holding STEAM workshops in local high schools.

This particular day, Que and Khalif have brought their workshop to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learners. About 40 students have filed into the library and scouted for seats at tables surrounding the main platform. Once the chatter subsides, the brothers begin the three-hour workshop for a mix of mostly curious students, with a few bored outliers.

"We’re here from Young Enterprising Society. We’re here to give you a workshop on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Can anybody tell me why technology is important today?" Que asks the students.

The El-Amins know their audience, so they make references to virtual reality, drones and Uber as examples of problem-solving technology, and mention celebrities such as Kanye West. Then the brothers make the rounds. Each table of students is assigned to solve a problem - by either creating a piece of technology or a company.

One group of five wants to find a way for parents to go on dates and still be able to watch their kids.

Credit Montel Allen
Khalif El-Amin preparing for the health section of the STEAM Workshop.

The brothers also schedule health breaks - 20 jumping-jacks and invite students up front to pick an apple or orange.

Khalif and Que will take their STEAM Workshops to 15 schools this year. The teams with the best ideas will participate in a summer camp where they’ll have resources to further develop their concept. In the end, the winner will receive $3,000.

"Some of the ideas that we see on a day-to-day basis with our workshops they are amazing—they’re awesome, so I want to share them with you, but out of respect to them and their ideas and their creativity, I’ll kind of reserve them," Khalif says.

The El-Amin brothers say their goal is to show kids they have the potential to kick-start the next big thing. And the two hope to especially inspire younger versions of themselves.

Khalif says there's a great need for young African-American males and females to see progressive and positive roles models. "We came from the same schools they come from. Some of the same issues that they were confronted with, we were confronted with. So we just want to give them a platform and give them an outlet and see that no matter what anybody else is telling you, you can make it out of Milwaukee," he says.

Who inspired the 29-year-old and 31-year-old siblings? They’re quick to shower praise on each other.

Credit Montel Allen
Que El-Amin checks on a group that wants to put more places for young people to hang out in Downtown Milwaukee.

"Que is a genius. Just being around him, just how he can put ideas on paper and then put them into action that helps me," Khalif says.

"The most important thing I learned from Khalif is the value of relationships. It’s a good, I’d say, Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan, just because we kind of balance each other out," says Que.

Yet they know it all originated with their father.

"A lot of it was just example. Growing up, we always saw our father work Monday through Friday in his New Horizon Center business, but he was also, a portion of that time, the principal of our school. And on Saturday he’ll be working around the house, going to pick up things, and then Sunday he was doing the bills. So I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary to work so hard or to do things that we do," Que says.

The El-Amins hope they now inspire young people to use what they can learn in school to unlock possibilities.

"We might not be able to change the world, but the people that we reach, the kids that we reach, it'll be that one kid who says, ‘Yeah, I remember back in 2015 when they came to my school and I took those principles and I failed four, five times, but then I created this app that change the world,' " Que dreams.

Credit Montel Allen
WCLL high schoolers turn their attention to YES presenters, Que and Khalif El-Amin, and volunteers.

Montel Allen is majoring in Journalism at UWM. During his time there, he has led the Voices of Milwaukee student organization. Montel has also reported on a plethora of topics regarding Milwaukee, including these two pieces for Media Milwaukee: Faces of UWM: The Pianist and 500 UW-Milwaukee Students “Make a Difference” for Elders.
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