Constellation Conversations: Connecting shining stars in the Milky Way

An interview with Keisha Howard

I recently had the honor of having an amazing conversation with Geek of all Trades, Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers and 2x TEDx speaker. Howard started Sugar Gamers as a community for female gamers, which has evolved into a diverse organization within the worlds of technology, gaming, and the arts. Sugar Gamers is dedicated to putting a focus on new and diverse voices in gaming and tech. 

Serene Mireles: I’d love to hear more about you. What is your origin story?

Keisha Howard: Well, even though I’ve been a gamer since I was 10 years old, and my brothers always got games, I wasn’t socialized to understand that the video game industry was a place that I could have an opportunity or a career in. I ended up going into real estate development right out of college. During the last recession in 2008–2009 is when I actually started Sugar Gamers, because everything that I worked for at that particular time in the real estate industry completely dissolved. So the directions you receive as a young person—you go to school, work really hard, and work your way up, really did not factor into my life at that particular time. So it let me actually think about what I am passionate about and interested in, and Sugar Gamers just became that thing that I accidentally sort of fell into as a as a founder.

Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers and Jennifer Tonge, Sugar Gamers co-founder and COO.

Mireles: What inspired you to get into gaming?

Howard: I have all brothers. I’m the only girl in my family, and my brothers always received those types of toys or entertainment. They were my best friends, and they were my playmates. If I wanted to play, a lot of times I had to play video games. So, initially, I didn’t start off thinking that video games were for me, because they’re for boys—I’m a girl. This was in the early 90s, so the landscape is a little bit different now than it was for me when video games were first becoming popular. We had Gameboy and Super Nintendo, and my older brother used to actually kind of improve my reading skills by making me play role playing games. He would make me play a game called Final Fantasy two, and then he would make me read all the girl parts out loud. Then we played Street Fighter and he would always beat me. I’d get so frustrated that I started to become good at the game just so I could win. The pleasure that comes from competing and winning and honing your skills is definitely something that kept me in the space. I’ve always liked games better than I like TV. I’m an avid reader, so as a kid I would always read books. Video games were sort of the next level of engagement. Instead of passively just consuming media, you are actually controlling a character, which controls the narrative that you’re part of. That’s how I fell in love with games, but understanding and deconstructing the business of video games wasn’t until later when I started Sugar Gamers.

Video games were sort of the next level of engagement. Instead of passively just consuming media, you are actually controlling a character, which controls the narrative that you’re part of. That’s how I fell in love with games

—Keisha Howard

Mireles: What is Sugar Gamers and how did it start?

Howard: Sugar Gamers is a media tech company. The website and its platform has evolved since it first started. The catalyst for it was I was supposed to be on a TV show on the SyFy channel called Ultimate Gamer. I flew out to California, and at the time in 2008, there weren’t any black women that signed up for this particular show, so they really wanted me to diversify their cast. A series of events happened, and ultimately they said that I wasn’t good enough to be on the show. I came back to Chicago angry—like why isn’t there an organization that meets in person, that plays games socially, that’s not all about Call of Duty or Halo or something super competitive and hardcore that has women, and that has people of color, all at the same time? It has to exist, right? It just has to exist. This is not an original idea. It has to exist. And I looked for about a year, but at the time in 2008–2009, there was no other community that existed like the one I created with Sugar Gamers. So I put an ad in Craigslist. I thought I might get 5-10 people, but I ended up getting almost 100 emails. There was something very interesting about how people would reach out. The women were like, “What you’re doing sounds cool, but I can’t play games,” or “I like games, but only play Tetris,” or “I would just like to watch.” It was sort of “I want to be a part of it, but I’m scared, because I’m not good at games.” It was a very interesting idea to me at the time. When we started having events, and starting seeing how liberating it was for women to be around other women, just talking about games and talking about Geek culture, and it being a warm and supportive environment, I realized that there was something here that I found in the void—something that was missing that Sugar Gamers could be a solution to. It’s grown and evolved since then. Now it’s no longer just women, but a collective of people who have the same mission of inclusivity.

When we started having events, and starting seeing how liberating it was for women to be around other women, just talking about games and talking about Geek culture, and it being a warm and supportive environment, I realized that there was something here that I found in the void—something that was missing that Sugar Gamers could be a solution to.

—Keisha Howard
Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers.

Mireles: Can you speak to you why this work is important to you, and what your hope is for the impact of Sugar Gamers?

Howard: This work is important, because video games are so much more than entertainment. Video games are STEM. So many different demographics of people have been socialized to believe that video games are just entertainment, which diminishes the power of this industry. It’s a $200 billion revenue-generating industry that has very few diverse executive sort of people. The consumers are diverse, but people who make games and own video game studios are typically not representative of the consumer base. That’s interesting to me, because therein lies an opportunity that needs to be included in this STEM conversation. Everyone’s talking about coding and programming, but no one is looking at video games foundationally as a place where people will be inspired to learn about it in the first place, which is astounding to me. I’m screaming into the ether, because my peers, the same peers that I grew up with, have been socialized to believe that video games are not necessarily for them, that they’re not a serious industry, that it’s just entertainment. People don’t understand that there is lots of money to be made, and lots of opportunities. Even if you’re not coding or programming, video games offer the same amount of jobs and the diversity of jobs, like the movie industry. Everybody wants to work in the movie industry, so why would you not talk about video games in that same way? Being in the video game industry, you learn even more productive skills that you can use in almost any tech field. Every app has some gamification element to keep people incentivized to use the app. If you understand gaming intrinsically, as a consumer, you can take that same skill set and actually learn something that is going to be productive to a job. In the future of automation and robots, and artificial intelligence, why wouldn’t you use any tool at your disposal to get people ready to transition their skill set? So that’s why it’s important to me, and also it’s fun! 

Video games are STEM. So many different demographics of people have been socialized to believe that video games are just entertainment, which diminishes the power of this industry. It’s a $200 billion revenue-generating industry that has very few diverse executive sort of people. The consumers are diverse, but people who make games and own video game studios are typically not representative of the consumer base.

—Keisha Howard

Mireles: How do you think diversity betters the gaming industry and tech field? 

Howard: I truly believe in diversity as the real definition of it. I’ve been in spaces where diversity just means “other”—you’re a black person, you know about diversity, or you’re woman, or you’re from the LGBTQ community. That’s not necessarily what diversity means. It means to gather all types of different people, different perspectives, and different backgrounds, because we can only learn so much through the lens of our own personal experiences. We need other people who are going to come from different backgrounds to bring their perspective, so we can create more universally compelling products, so we can create products that are more sensitive to a larger audience. Ultimately, if you’re able to create universally compelling products, then your bottom line should increase. Diversity is the word that we’re using to tackle the problem, but the solution to it is that you wouldn’t even necessarily have to talk about it anymore. It will be reflected through the products and the services that are created, that are going to reach a larger audience organically and naturally, because you have so many different types of people being able to contribute their story, their their narrative. I think it’s just smarter. 

We have so many conversations about diversity, inclusion being this thing, and we create so many safe spaces around it. It is starting, in my opinion, to lose some of the impact. If you talk about how results are improved from diverse teams, then people will start feeling better about implementing practices for long term gain. At the end of the day diversity inclusion is fiscally responsible. Of course as a black woman I have emotional feelings about it. When I see spaces that don’t include me, I absolutely want to fight to be included, and that’s from my personal experience, but from an objective point of view, why wouldn’t I want to create a product that not only appeals to me but to everyone else?

The Sugar Gamers team.

I feel like Sugar Gamers is a blueprint of what it means to have a diverse team. There are so many things that I’ve learned from the people on my team. Even though I’m the founder of the company, I am only as strong as what my team members are contributing. We’ve done some amazing things with the power of a diverse team. From my experience, I know it works. I just want to offer what I’ve done to attract people organically and to have them loyal to our brand. I want to share that blueprint, so other companies can start utilizing it, instead of just pandering to the types of people that they’re lacking. It took me 10 years to learn the skills, to gain the experience, investing, learning the things that I needed to learn working at the tech companies that give me the relevant and skills. When the conversation is just about me being a black woman, which is something that was born into, it completely diminishes all the hard work I’ve done to create the company that I created, and to have expertise that I have. At some point we have to move past these parts of conversation, and understand this should be natural, and begin making these amazing products that come from having diverse perspectives.

Even though I’m the founder of the company, I am only as strong as what my team members are contributing. We’ve done some amazing things with the power of a diverse team.

—Keisha Howard

Mireles: What has helped you achieve success on your journey? 

Howard: Two things! First the contributions of my team and the support of my friends and family. Though, being an entrepreneur in this space is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, I’ve always had people around that believed in me and what I was trying to accomplish. At my lowest points, even a genuine words of encouragement has allowed me to continue pressing forward.

The second is my commitment to keep learning. I’ve had to continuously learn new skills in order to stay on top of the exponentially advancing world of tech and video games. Being knowledgeable allowed me the confidence to stay motivated.

Mireles: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Howard: Entrepreneurship is NOT for everyone. Depending on the resources you have access to—it can be incredibly challenging and taxing to your mental and physical health. So for those that are aspiring entrepreneurs, be certain you have the commitment, fortitude, and discipline required to make the sacrifices needed to meet your goals.

Mireles: I did an interview for the blog with Que El-Amin, one of the founders of Young Enterprising Society, and something he said really stood out to me, “We don’t want to have 1,000 tech organizations and still not be a tech hub. We need to make sure we’re working with each other, not against each other.” Do you have any ideas around how organizations can collaborate to work toward the vision of the Milky Way Tech Hub?  

Howard: Most of us are accustomed to environments where some level of competition is considered normal. That competitive mindset keeps people from putting in the time and effort to form alliances to accomplish goals. People are more focused on not “losing” to their competitor. However, when organizations have shared missions, being intentional about collaboration means there can be an outcome where everyone wins. It’s difficult, but if we could all worry less about who gets the credit, and focus more on the success of a shared vision—we then expand our support systems, teams, and knowledge base.

To learn more about Keisha Howard and Sugar Gamers, visit: or follow @sugargamers on social media.


The Milky Way Tech Hub Hosts Nasa Space Apps MKE Hackathon

Are you a fan of space, science and NASA? On Oct. 19 at No Studios in Milwaukee, you will have an opportunity to work on challenges posed by NASA as part of the NASA Space Apps Challenge 2019.

Space Apps is an international hackathon for coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists and others in cities around the world, where teams engage with NASA’s free and open data to address real-world problems on Earth and in space. Space Apps 2018 included over 18,000 participants at more than 200 events in 75 countries. For the first time, Milwaukee is one of the host cities! Register today


i.c.stars; the future is bright in the Milky Way

i.c.stars is an immersive technology workforce training and placement program for promising young adults. i.c.stars opened their first office in Chicago in 1999, and opened an affiliate in Columbus, Ohio in 2016. In 2018, i.c.stars opened in Milwaukee after receiving a generous commitment from The Dohmen Company. The sponsorship gives i.c.stars the funding, staff, and location needed to train and put promising adults to work in business & technology roles within Milwaukee companies. Located in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, i.c.stars shares space with Dohmen’s healthcare technology company, Red Arrow Labs. Nationally, the organization has trained hundreds of people to date with a placement rate of 80% for industry-ready graduates.

Leia Ferrari

Leia Ferrari, talent placement manager at i.c.stars, started her career in tech at a coding boot camp in the Bay Area where she learned a lot about skills-based education and the experiential learning space. After working at the coding boot camp for a couple years, Ferrari moved back to Milwaukee in June 2017. She took some time off to travel, and just as she was debating between moving to Colorado, moving back to California, or staying in Wisconsin, the stars aligned and she joined the founding team for i.c.stars Milwaukee.

Ferrari’s passion is related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the professional workforce. Her goal is to make the professional workforce in Milwaukee more accurately represent the population here. She’s living her why by working with the people going through the program, and seeing their dedication and accomplishments. Ferrari is an intrapreneur within i.c.stars, working with interns to prepare them professionally, working with companies to hire graduates, running a staffing augmentation, and working with sponsors and partners.

Ferrari credits both her individual success and i.c.stars’ success to their village of supporters. They’ve been able to get this far through the support of individuals who have started to collaborate and form coalitions within their organizations, and help to break down the barriers for i.c.stars within those organizations. i.c.stars has formed a valuable partnership with Northwestern Mutual, they’ve become a hiring partner, which is the ultimate investment—giving someone a future in the the tech industry locally. 

“I would love to see more companies or organizations follow Northwestern Mutual’s lead and get involved with us. The reason that we have such a healthy relationship is because they have a level of sponsorship, where they give us employee time to mentor our interns. Those mentors, in turn, come to realize these people are so ready to work, and can see them working at their company, on their team,” said Ferrari.

Ferrari is incredibly proud of the program’s graduates. “They are everything in terms of why we’re doing what we’re doing. They are putting themselves through so much, and also putting themselves out there in terms of vulnerability and giving up a lot to be able to do our program,” she said. The program is 12 hours a day, five days a week for four months. The students have to be dedicated to the program, because it’s incredibly challenging to have another job at night, or on weekends, especially with homework. It takes a lot of sacrifice and commitment—they’re usually giving up sleep, or time with their family, so they have to rely on their own villages and support system.

“We know that they have so much potential, that they already have the talent, and the resilience and the capabilities, all that they’ve been lacking is the opportunity. So we’re putting this opportunity in front of them, they can make of it what they will, and when they decide to take it on and fulfill their potential, nothing makes me happier,” said Ferrari.

Ferrari is also incredibly proud of the i.c.stars team who teaches the students to code, teaches them about business, and how to conduct themselves in a professional workspace. 

“It’s a really beautiful cycle of we’re giving to you; you’re going to give back to other people. It’s a community. It’s a family.”

—Leia Ferrari, talent placement manager, i.c.stars

As of July 2019, 47 individuals have completed the i.c.stars program in Milwaukee, of which 43% are female, 57% are male, and 96% identify as people of color. There are typically 200+ inquiries, 100+ completed applications, and it all comes down to 20 individuals who are admitted per cycle. Once students are accepted into the program, there’s a team week where they focus on team building, self discovery exercises for them to better understand who they are, how they work in teams, how they lead management styles, and an emotional intelligence workshop. After team week, students get into coding and work with a client, which is a key differentiator of the program. During first three months of the program they work with a client to respond to an RFP. Each week, the coding instructor is teaching them the things that they are going to start building, giving the building blocks one row at a time to deliver an MVP at the end of the third month. 

“We really help them push past what they think they’re capable of doing. It’s nothing short of inspiring.”

—Leia Ferrari, talent placement manager, i.c.stars

Some of the organizations that have hired i.c.stars grads are Northwestern Mutual, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Briggs & Stratton, Cargill, CBRE | ESI, Dohmen, von Briesen & Roper, Dental Associates, Footlocker, Kenall, Crescendo Collective, Cream City Coders, and SHARP Literacy. Graduates have gone into roles like Software Developer, QA Analyst, Application Developer, Service Desk Specialist, IT Specialist, Front End Developer, and Dev Ops Engineer to name a few. 

i.c.stars believes in the spirit of collaboration over competition to move the community forward. “The Tech Hub movement is a perfect example—seeing Northwestern Mutual and Aurora, who are both large employers in the Milwaukee Area, come together to partner on that. I personally hope to see other enterprise level companies do the same in the near future,” said Ferrari. She also believes that we need more voices in Milwaukee. “When I bring our interns from i.c. stars to an event with me, I still don’t see enough diversity in those rooms. That’s not the fault of diverse communities. That’s the work of majority communities, when it comes to inclusion, so actively inviting, engaging, and persisting to reach out to communities that they may not be familiar in order to ensure that all different kinds of voices are represented,” Ferrari said. Conversations are often centered on racial and gender issues, but we also need to include LGBTQIA, disability, and neurodiversity in the conversation. 

“It’s our duty to speak up when we see bias in action, to interrupt it.”

—Leia Ferrari, talent placement manager, i.c.stars

To learn more about applying for the program, or to become a sponsor, client, or volunteer, visit or connect with Leia Ferrari on LinkedIn.


Constellation Conversations: Connecting shining stars in the Milky Way

An interview with Tania Dsouza

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the amazingly talented, Tania Dsouza, Creative Technology Director/Entrepreneur in Residence at BVK. Dsouza holds a Master’s in Innovation from Cranfield, U.K., and a Master’s in Technology from Touro in New York. She is driven by purpose to help people, and solve problems through innovation and emerging technology.

Serene Mireles: Tell me about yourself. You have a long, impressive career history. How did you get started?

Tania Dsouza: I started out in the advertising space. I have a lot of brand experience. I worked with some big agencies in the beginning years of my life, from Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, to MKTG in Dubai, India. Then I moved on from print and packaging design to experiential and media marketing in Dubai. I changed careers and I did my Master’s in innovation. I did a little bit of entrepreneurship, engineering, design history, business, and that’s where I kind of got into design, user experience, human centered design, human interaction, product innovation—everything innovation—UX innovation. Not UX just for web, but product.

Then I went into event design—events and experiences and festivals in India. I did an event like Coachella. I created the concept for the event. It was a lifestyle and social festival in India, so creating the intellectual property for the agency, curating it, designing the presentation, putting a business-product mindset to it as well. I created it like a brand, and then pitched that and marketed it to sponsors and brands.

I also saw that I had a gap with understanding technology, so I did a Master’s in Technology in New York. That’s where I learned web development, and I did back end development as well, so I know database management and SQL. I don’t actually code, but I studied it, so now I understand it.

At my company I’m an entrepreneur in residence. I develop products and intellectual properties for our clients. I’m also a designer, so I design the user experience, and I do a little bit of everything when we develop products. My main job is to support the creative. We do advertising campaigns. We come up with a platform, and then I support with experiential ideas wether it’s AR/VR or voice. How do you bring the idea to life through interactivity? I know a little about artificial intelligence, blockchain, personalization, any kind of new technology, emerging technology—that’s my job. I educate the agency on emerging technologies. It’s very difficult to teach somebody about new technology, but if I have an idea, and I can demo it, it’s so much easier for them to understand the tool, and then they can understand how to make it.

Sometimes you have to be bold and step out.

—Tania Dsouza

Mireles: What is your passion, and how do you live your Why?

Dsouza: I really love entrepreneurship. I love coming up with new ideas and solutions, and seeing the ideas come to life. I’m really passionate about innovation and solving problems, and I’m passionate about the people in Milwaukee. How do we solve the problem of segregation, what idea can I bring to the table, how can I help support or bridge some gaps? That’s where my heart is and my long-term goal.

I love expressing creativity through technology. That’s what I do in my job. Entrepreneurship comes naturally to me, and they encourage it at my job, so I really like that. I love coming up with ideas, and when someone else is like “we can use this,” and we can work together, and we can solve this problem—I love that—it makes me very happy. I feel very energized sharing ideas. I don’t have to get credit for it. I love collaborating and brainstorming!

My main strength is ideation, and the other is strategic thinking, so just being around people, and seeing solutions come off, like a very startup mindset. How do you cut through the clutter of traditional thinking and bring new, fresh thinking? Like, why do we have to do it that way? I like to look to other industries, look at user behavior, understand how people behave in a specific area, and bring that same behavior into different products. How do people behave, and how can we build the technology to match people’s behavior?

It’s easier to work this way instead of copying how it’s always been done, then we’ll never have change. Sometimes you have to be bold and step out.

I don’t pursue success, I pursue purpose. How can I add value to the people around me? How do I impact the people around me?

—Tania Dsouza

Mireles: What has helped you achieve success?

Dsouza: That’s a really simple answer. It’s personal, but I just think my faith in God. Im a Christian, I love Jesus. He’s been the one that has brought me through everything, and I learn, and I grow. I feel like it’s how you look at things. There’s going to be good that comes out of everything. That mindset helps you to not think about past, or anything that is wrong with your past—you can actually move forward. I feel like that’s something that I treasure, and I feel like I’ve grown in that.

I don’t pursue success, I pursue purpose. How can I add value to the people around me? How do I impact the people around me? If I can grow emotionally, and the people around me are thriving, then that’s good. I feel like that’s my purpose. That’s why I want to help the city of Milwaukee. What can I do to solve problems. I want to be an instrument wherever I can. I’m not really pursuing success. That’s how I walk. Even at my job, it’s never like “that’s not my job. I’m not going to do it.” Integrity and being ethical, I feel, contributes to the result—you are reaping what you are sowing, and good comes out of that. That’s how I pursue success.

I look for wise people and try to walk with them, so I can learn from them and grow.

—Tania Dsouza

Mireles: Have you had any mentors or a support system along the way?

Dsouza: I have mentors, and people that I look up to—like all the women in my life that I want to be like. I want to grow into a better mom, or a director, or a better colleague. I’m not perfect, I like reading my Bible, and I look for wise people and try to walk with them, so I can learn from them and grow.

Mireles: There are a lot of diversity gaps in tech in Milwaukee, and across the whole field. How do you think diversity betters the tech field?

Dsouza: I’ve traveled so much. I’ve worked with all nationalities. You realize that everyone is different from you, and everyone has their own opinions, and it’s okay. When you’re in a team, and it’s not a diverse team, you’re not used to having someone different, so there’s a barrier of not being able to connect with other people. It’s going to be difficult for you to connect with somebody if you’re not used to being around people who are different from you. There is a breakdown in that basic human connection. We’re not able to understand each other’s jokes, we’re not able to connect, we’re not able to laugh together. It’s really difficult to work together. There are so many barriers to share ideas. When you can experience diverse thinking, and diverse people—all nationalities, you get so used to being around one another that you don’t even notice that you’re different. When you have diverse perspectives, you have better ideas, you can all work better together, and it’s so much easier to get stuff done.

Mireles: You share a lot of the same goals as Jet Constellations and the Milky Way Tech Hub Initiative. We’re working to transform Milwaukee into a tech hub that represents the city’s diverse population. How do you think you can contribute to this initiative?

Dsouza: It’s so easy to connect people together who share a common interest. I love connecting people. I think that would be a really good way to get people together, unify people, and enjoy one another. How can we be more inclusive, how can we design for different people, how do we connect with people differently? I just want to help and solve wherever I can!


The American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact Becomes Presenting Partner of The Milky Way Tech Hub

Jet Constellations and The Milky Way Tech Hub welcome the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact (the Institute) in a partnership to build new startups and drive diversity and inclusion in the Southeast Wisconsin tech scene.

The Institute is a venture capital firm and partner of choice for exceptional entrepreneurs who are building scalable, sustainable businesses in a long-term effort to close equity gaps in America. Its investments focus on four main areas: resilient communities; learning and academic achievement; healthy youth development; and economic opportunity, which includes working with formerly incarcerated people. The Institute builds on American Family Insurance’s commitment to engage with communities to solve some of society’s challenges through public and private partnerships. 

The Institute is headquartered in Spark, AmFam’s newest building in downtown Madison, which is dedicated to innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship. The state-of-the art building represents American Family’s investment in Wisconsin, and will serve as home for the company’s digital transformation, venture capital and community investment efforts. Spark is also home to DreamBank and StartingBlock Madison (SBM), an entrepreneurial center for start-up companies and established entrepreneurs to share knowledge, skills and professional assistance. The Spark Building houses investors, engineers, and startups all under one roof. 

The Spark Building. headquarters of the Institute.

“As Milwaukee’s startup community grows it is critical that our ecosystem is a reflection of Milwaukee’s diverse population. We are thrilled to have the support of the AmFam Institute as this is the type of corporate leadership and commitment necessary to make sustainable progress.” 

—Nadiyah Johnson, Founder of Jet Constellations

The Institute will work with partners like Jet Constellations to bring forward startups that might not have had opportunities for funding in the past. We will support startups as they develop their teams, customers and products with the goal of creating jobs and positive social impact, amongst many different success metrics. The Institute is investing in startups nationally and locally in Wisconsin, and is looking at the Milky Way Tech Hub as a way to source new startups from Milwaukee.

John McIntyre, an investment director at the AmFam Institute.

“While an end goal is to create and fund great startups that take off from the Milky Way Tech Hub, we know they all won’t succeed,” said John McIntyre, an investment director at the AmFam Institute.  “However, the experience gained by the entrepreneurs is tremendous, so the next time they try a startup, the chances greatly increase that they will succeed.  So it’s both those things—great startups, and the experience people get to go through in a program like this, to really teach them about entrepreneurship.”

McIntyre believes that for the next wave of startups to create great products and services, they need to be reflective of the population as a whole. He said to be innovative, startups have to have teams that reflect the population. These diverse teams bring new ideas and new ways of looking at things that teams that are not diverse don’t have. McIntyre believes that this is going to be a real awakening in Milwaukee, to see diversity in startups not only at its starting stages, but to see companies take off in the next several years.

McIntyre said there are a number of major companies in Milwaukee and Wisconsin that realize they need to do much more. McIntyre encouraged them to put resources and money to work to address these issues. He said there are a number of cities around the country who have turned things around and built an inclusive ecosystem, and that this partnership will help the Milky Way Tech Hub both retain and attract entrepreneurs and diverse tech talent in Milwaukee.  

“It’s not easy. It takes time, it takes money, it takes dedication from multiple organizations, and there will probably be mistakes made, but you can’t give up, you’ve got to keep trying,” said McIntyre. “I can envision a day in some years where there’s a thriving ecosystem of startups and tech startups, and Milwaukee becomes a really hot spot for a very diverse set of people.”

Jet Constellations is also excited to announce partnerships with Brilliance Business Solutions, and Office of Violence Prevention and Heal the Hood MKE. These partnerships will help continue to empower the Milky Way Tech Hub Initiative, ensuring that Milwaukee’s tech scene mirrors its diverse population. 


“Once you see it, you believe that you can do it too”

El-Amins are living their passion by helping others succeed

Milwaukee natives, Que and Khalif El-Amin are the founders of Young Enterprising Society (YES) and The Blueprint. The brothers have been inspired by their father who’s an entrepreneur, their mother, and their entire family full of dynamic talent and knowledge. 

“A lot of my inspiration was my father, he’s been an entrepreneur for over 30 years now. Seeing him and how he was able to give other people opportunity, and not just for himself, has always been inspiration.”

—Que El-Amin

After attending college and living in various cities across the U.S., the brothers returned to Milwaukee. The El-Amins started YES after realizing they could use their wide network and resources to help the city. A lot of their business was built around connecting. In the beginning they hosted a large party at a local venue and got people together from all areas of Milwaukee, of all races and backgrounds. The brothers were able to show a unified front by bringing together a diverse group of people.

The mission of YES is to be an international epicenter for financially, politically, and socially progressive individuals. Serving as a hub, YES mobilizes people, information, resources and capital for the greater good of its members and society at large.

YES presents Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math programming to students in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach that shows children young working examples of people that generate income from these fields. The goal of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math, program is produce students who are trained in entrepreneurial skills based in STEAM that allow them to be successful in industry or college upon completion.

“Big businesses aren’t going to bring back the jobs that we saw in the past, so we have to create our own opportunities.”

—Que El-Amin

YES started the business accelerator known as “The Blueprint” after noticing the lack of African Americans and people of color at a local tech event. The Blueprint helps to develop a rich entrepreneurial ecosystem in the areas of technology, eCommerce, and advanced manufacturing. The Blueprint program provides entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to start and scale in Wisconsin with tools for sustainable business models that will help them be successful. The focus of YES is to continue to grow businesses, and grow entrepreneurs in the city of Milwaukee, and wherever they grow and continue to grow.

“When you have different types of people, they have more insights, more thoughts, and the more diverse thoughts you have, the better a product is going to be. From a business perspective, you need diverse thought, because they produce better products.” 

—Que El-Amin

YES is contributing to The Milky Way Tech Hub Initiative by building an inclusive ecosystem in Milwaukee. They’re giving businesses opportunity, providing them with resources to be successful, and motivating them—seeing somebody else be successful inspires others to believe they can be too. They also believe that collaboration is the key to making Milwaukee be the home of tech diversity across the country—by breaking down silos, working together, and using our strengths and weaknesses to have a direct effort, we can help ensure we’re not recreating the wheel or making the same mistakes. 

“We don’t want to have 1,000 tech organizations and still not be a tech hub. We need to make sure we’re working with each other, not against each other.” 

—Que El-Amin

Get involved

YES believes in developing strong alliances that strengthen communities. You can get involved by visiting the YES website at

YES also has many free resources—courses on STEAM, resources for free software, digital libraries, and scholarships. Visit to learn more.

Additionally, you can join YES on Sunday, June 30, as they welcome Sheena Allen as their special guest for Demo Day.  They will have 12 businesses pitching their newly formed ideas as part of The Blueprint Cultivator.

“Give back as much as you can. Bring other people up with you”

—Que El-Amin

How Code for Milwaukee is building a diversified community through collaboration and civic engagement

Originally from New York, Andrew Yaspan moved to Milwaukee to start a job at the Medical College of Wisconsin as a programer analyst for the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Yaspan completed his undergrad in political science, and did an AmeriCorps term in New Orleans with the rebuilding post-Katrina where he learned a lot about public health and public health perspective. He eventually realized his interest in public health and public policy and took an opportunity in the New Orleans Health Department. While working for the Health Department, Yaspan learned a lot about technology and IT infrastructure. He saw the potential in spreading across departments and using that as a way to break down divisions within government and encourage more collaboration and feedback in government.  

Andrew Yaspan, Code for Milwaukee’s Captain

Yaspan’s consistent interest in well being, social determinants of health, and different aspects of people’s lives that contribute to how much opportunity or disparities in opportunity people have, started with the criminal justice system. One of the first areas that grabbed his attention is how counter-intuitive and destructive our criminal justice and incarceration system is. A lot of his attention was brought to the issue through his love of hip hop music. Additionally, Yaspan’s interest in computer science and policy inspired him to complete the Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy program (MS-CAPP), blending together new ways of doing data analysis, data collection, and using it to inform evidence-based policy. 

After moving to Milwaukee, Yaspan began to see some of the issues regarding segregation and equality in the city. Motivated by his love for service and seeing people’s creativity through the face of adversity, Yaspan worked with a core team to revitalize the Code for Milwaukee effort here. Code for Milwaukee is a Code for America Brigade, which are volunteer groups that collaborate with local government and community partners to build new tools that help with local civic issues.

“Tech for good is one of the pillars, clear connection, symbiosis.”

—Andrew Yaspan

The core Code for Milwaukee team is: Andrew Yaspan, Captain; Mitchell Henkie, Co-Captain & Development Lead; Erin Magennis, Community Organizer; Romke De Haan, Storyteller; Brian Barkley, Communications Lead; Danny Capozzi, Financial Lead.

Erin Magennis, Code for Milwaukee’s Community Organizer, hopes that Code for Milwaukee will be as welcoming, collaborative, and impactful as they envision it can be. 

“Technology isn’t great for technology’s sake, technology is great because it makes people’s lives better. I believe that when initiatives and objectives that can have a considerable effect on people’s lives, are paired and enhanced by technology, that impact can be exponentially greater.”

—Erin Magennis

Moving forward, Magennis and the team is excited to enhance collaboration between tech and civic enthusiasts with:

  • Artists, writers, and videographers who can translate the purpose of the projects into something meaningful that others can connect with. 
  • Marketing and branding masterminds to help promote the projects created to the people who can actually get value out of their existence.
  • Tech and civic engagement inquirers who haven’t yet delved into these realms, but who are interested in learning more about technology, programming, or civic engagement. 

Magennis believes that through the public good projects Code for Milwaukee will be involved with, more people will come to a deeper understanding and connection with the policies affecting our lives and the governing bodies ruling in such a way that they now feel empowered to have a voice and be involved. Magennis also believes that Code for Milwaukee can create a pathway towards a more technologically sustainable community with greater technological interest and literacy starting at young ages. 

“Technology is the future, so having a technologically savvy population will create a more vibrant community.”

—Erin Magennis

Erin Magennis, Code for Milwaukee’s Community Organizer

Magennis hopes that Code for Milwaukee will ignite a series of bridges being built throughout our community, breaking down silos through cross collaboration and diversity of thought. She believes that diversity is key for survival, and by facilitating opportunities for connection to others who may have substantially different backgrounds, but similar interests and passions, will allow us as a community to be better connected and more sustainable. 

One of the projects Code for Milwaukee has in the works is their website to provide a space where people can understand what they’re doing, learn about projects, get to know who the core team members are and their philosophy, and how they can promote good things happening in the city. Code for Milwaukee is also working on creating a de-incarceration platform, providing a space for collaboration for organizations interested in reducing the prison population, and resources for people who are re-entering society. Additionally there is a project being built around one of the core team members’ interests in how property assessments are being done and the disparities in how that’s being done within and across neighborhoods. 

A lot of other projects will be brought to the group, and people can decide which projects they want to be involved in. The Code for Milwaukee team is excited to be part of a solution to support The Milky Way Tech Hub Initiative, to get people involved, and to collaborate on projects. Code for Milwaukee is made up of individuals who are interested in bringing technology to various parts of local government, whether you’re a designer, developer, or a product manager, everyone is encouraged to join regardless of experience. Check out the Code for Milwaukee Meetup page to get involved!

“To achieve real, beneficial impact on people’s lives, meaningful projects need to be tackled. By establishing a community of people who envision a better future and who regularly support, contribute, and commit to working together to build this vision, a better state of Milwaukee can be created. Although Code for Milwaukee may appear to be simply a tech group on first glance, it is so much more than that.”

—Erin Magennis


Minorities to Majorities: How Jasmine Chigbu is tackling the diversity gap and inspiring students to pursue their dreams

Jasmine Chigbu has always been interested in medicine and driven by her passion to help people. Chigbu, a first year med student with an undergrad in clinical research and master’s degree in biomedical sciences, noticed a distinct lack of diversity in her undergraduate, graduate, and professional experiences. She was often one of a few females and ethnic minorities in the room, and fell into entrepreneurship through this realization. While Chigbu was researching scholarships for her graduate degree, she realized she could share her extensive research to help others. It became a personal passion project. Chigbu wanted to find a way to increase the representation of diverse groups by providing them with information about educational and professional opportunities, tools, and inspiration. Chigbu found a software development company, and through trial and error, built Minorities to Majorities, a mobile app to provide ethnic minority, female, LGBTQ and international students information about scholarship, internship, and fellowship opportunities.

“Be creative in the ways you want to reduce disparities. What’s creative in your approach? Minorities to Majorities is using tech. Use your niche—find a creative way to attack the same issue and you’ll have greater results. If you’re really passionate, that will keep you going.” 

While being underrepresented is challenging and at times isolating, Chigbu encourages people to use their voice, even if they feel suppressed, and to let go of imposter syndrome.  

“You might be under-represented, but you’re not under-qualified.”

Jasmine Chigbu, founder of Minorities to Majorities.

“Find your community—social media, friends, a community of people to support you and champion you.” 

Chigbu found support and mentorship from her boss while working at a biotech startup, and she was introduced to Nadiyah Johnson, founder of Jet Constellations, while pursuing her mission-driven project. Both are driven by their passion for promoting diversity and empowering underrepresented people—an instant partnership was formed. Johnson has helped develop MTM, and has joined their growing team as Operations Manager.

The Minorities to Majorities team.

MTM is driven by their mission to transform the lives of students one opportunity at a time. They’ve started a crowd funding campaign to raise funds to generate their second generation app in order to better serve students, and they need your help. The funds will help expedite the scholarship, internship and fellowship search and application process for students through the utilization of AI, customized software and an improved algorithm. The goal is to scale their platform and mobile app into the leading educational and professional platform connecting students to opportunities across the globe.

MTM plans to optimize their mobile app and platform through the following methods:

  • Develop an advanced algorithm with improved search and filtering functionality to provide users with curated experiences
  • Build a web compatible platform to accompany the mobile app, improving user accessibility
  • Leverage artificial intelligence to continuously populate our opportunities database  
  • Hire an enterprise development team to design, build and configure the app

In order to close the diversity gap, Chigbu says we need to speak up and speak out. 

“Don’t be afraid to call out disparities. Call them out and provide examples, whether it’s at work, or school. Start small-one step at a time, making actionable steps.”

If you want to help, consider contributing to the campaign, or help by sharing this campaign with your friends, family, and social networks!

Check out the campaign here!