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Project Milwaukee: 'If You Want Really Cool Stuff in Milwaukee, Fund Really Bright People'

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Michelle Maternowski
Greg Meier chats at WUWM's Projects Milwaukee forum.

Greg Meier's broad experience includes co-founding Global Entrepreneurship Collective as well as Wisconsin's first mentor-driven seed accelerator, 94 Labs. Today, Meier is the Director of the Milwaukee Institute’s Center for Software Engineering. He is also an adjunct faculty member at UW-Milwaukee and Cardinal Stritch University.

Meier has a lot to say about Milwaukee's innovation scene, starting with its history steeped in the economies of scale model.

He points to Detroit as the most profound example. “The auto companies were driven by economies of scale, they drove the culture to economies of scale, and Geoffrey West (physicist and former president of the Santa Fe Institute) prediction was that you would die if you live by economies of scale. Detroit died as a city, it went bankrupt,” Meier says.

He says Milwaukee didn’t get that far, and notes signs of transformation. “We’re turning the cycle back to an innovation cycle. I’ve been here 15 years and we’ve gone through a definite down cycle and now up. We’re seeing a lot of technology companies move into the Fifth Ward in the last few years. We see now the building out of 2nd Street and this whole area becoming very robust,” Meier says.

Advances in software design are driving rapid change, he says.

"If you want to see really cool stuff in Milwaukee, fund really bright people to do really cool stuff. They will then drive it." - Greg Meier

“Whether we’re imbedding it in robots and drones, or we’re driving web-based applications. Software is the horizontal that cuts across all of these different verticals – energy, water, even a lot of chemical analysis of water is done on computers, it’s modeled and things of that sort,” Meier says.

He’s part of a network of mentors attempting to support start-ups, but says ongoing funding is equally critical. “What I’d really like to see is a tremendous amount of support, giving these guys runways so they can get going,” Meier says.

As important, he says, is that the process work from the bottom up.

“If you want to see really cool stuff in Milwaukee, fund really bright people to do really cool stuff. They will then drive it. It has to do with the fact that the way entrepreneurs work - they have a vision for the future, they don’t think there’s a future, then write a plan to it, they actually create it. So you need to fund that kind of thinking and they will make the city look the way it should in the future. That someone is going to sit around and figure out this is the way it is, and mandate it, that’s not the way it works. Or you end up with a lot of empty buildings,” Meier says.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>