COVID-19 Social Impact Solutions for Milwaukee

COVID-19 has taken us by storm. Our first article covering COVID -19 was posted on March 22nd. On that day Wisconsin had reached ~381 confirmed cases and 4 deaths. Today there are 3,555 confirmed cases and 170 confirmed deaths.. Of these numbers Milwaukee County has 2,040 cases and 114 deaths. That’s ~57% of the Wisconsin’s cases and 67% of total deaths in Wisconsin. . 

When you take a closer look at Milwaukee County  where the population is 38% Black, you’ll find that the percentage of the counties COVID-19 deaths are 53% Black . Black people are being disproportionately impacted by this virus. Why?

Reggie Jackson, a well respected community advocate and scholar recently, addressed this question in a published article in Independent Milwaukee.  

It is a well known fact that there are significant disparities between the Black and White population in Milwaukee. Scholars have deemed racism to be one of the significant causes. In a recent article Reggie shared that research studies of Dr. David Williams, an expert on public health, show that “Increasing evidence indicates that racial discrimination is an emerging risk factor for disease and a contributor to racial disparities in healthcare”

Milwaukee has been labeled systemically dangerous for Black people. In 2019 County Executive Chris Abele declared racism as a public health crisis. Governor Tony Evers has been quoted saying that the impact the virus is having on Milwaukee County is a crisis within a crisis. 

As COVID-19 continues to take a toll on Milwaukee and disproportionately affects people of color we need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the government communication strategy to reach its most vulnerable communities?
  • How are resources being equitably allocated to effectively address this crisis?
  • How are COVID-19 tests made accessible to vulnerable populations in Milwaukee?
  • How do we hold each other accountable to keeping each other safe as a community?

Suggestions on How to Flatten the Curve

  • We need community members (residents of Milwaukee) to be an active part of the decision making process alongside government officials
  • Effective communication strategy to bring awareness to the importance of staying at home.
  • Create and effective logistics plan for retail shopping to minimize COVID-19 exposure. 
  • Leverage technology to identify vulnerable communities.
  • A close tracking of the health of those who were forced to risked their health to exercise their right to vote in the April 7th election.

Current Technology Solutions Addressing COVID-19 in Milwaukee:

Milky Way Tech Hub COVID-19 Chatbot

The Milky Way Tech Hub is working hard to address the health disparities in vulnerable communities as a result of COVID-19. The organization has created a chatbot accessible from facebook to bring more awareness to resources around COVID-19 and to address the recent health risks of April 7th election.

Here’s How You Can Help:

  • Team is in need of people to help get the word out about the chatbot
  • Team is looking for more resources to be added to the chatbot workflow

Code for Milwaukee

Code for Milwaukee has identified 5 major projects that will help the citizens of the greater Milwaukee area to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Presented here are those 5 major projects, plus suggestions on how you can help.

Health Platform

  • The Milwaukee Department of Health is looking to create a responsive web communication platform and notification system to help provide information to Milwaukeeans about health alerts and news.
  • The goal of Health Platform is to allow individuals to quickly read notifications from DoH from their email, or SMS device. This platform would be utilized to help distribute information to citizens in Milwaukee.

Here’s How You Can Help: 

  • This team is looking for developers who can help set up an AWS environment to install a headless wordpress install and integrate it with AWS sns for message distribution. They may also need content creators and designers to help refactor information to best suit user needs.


There is a growing need to  push stories to help ensure individuals understand the gravity of the COVID-19 and those impacted by it. It’s also extremely important to share inspiring stories about what people are doing/building out to help one another.  

Storytelling is a powerful tool when you need to create impact. By connecting the audience with relatable stories we can bridge gaps and understanding to help fight against COVID-19. 

Here’s How You Can Help: 

  • This team is in need of creatives and experts in video and storytelling to help us get the word out on COVID. From washing hands to celebrating the local heros. The more we can inform individuals through storytelling the great chances we have of flattening the curve.

Contact: is an online survey that people can use to report symptoms when they are sick, regardless of whether they have received a coronavirus test. 

The goal is to reach every person in the US who is potentially infected with coronavirus. This is incredibly important because it will help to inform what we need to do, and we lack the test kits for this information.

Current status of the project: 

  • Survey is up and collecting data! 
  • The team is waiting on final confirmation that they can proceed with data analysis
  • They are currently working on a pipeline to get raw survey data into published analysis on the website

Here’s How You Can Help: 

  • There is a need for people who are familiar with how to solve the problem of getting raw Qualtrics data into analysts’ hands, refreshed every day
  • There is a need for people to maintain the website with new daily analysis updates
  • This team is also looking for more data analysts, especially people good with creating geographical maps (preferred R or maybe Python)
  • There is also a need to translate the survey into spanish or other foreign languages, and help adding this feature to the website

Other Info:

  • Link to GitHub site
  • Department of Public Works site TBA soon

Contact: Leader: Dr. Amy Kalkbrenner (, Dr. Brian Barkley (

MKE Strong App  

This app is your guide to local restaurants, retailers, artists and how to support them. 

Milwaukee businesses and the thousands of people they employ are in distress. In an effort to assist our neighbors and curb the number of business closures, the MKE Strong app will highlight the myriad of different resources, charitable funds, business offerings, etc… available to those Milwaukee’s ready and willing to support their community. 

Current status of the project:

  • The app is up and running with over 300 listings. 
  • Next steps are to expand the number of listings and user reach. 

Here’s How You Can Help:

  • To enhance business listing growth this team needs volunteers to add more businesses and  help make sure businesses know they can submit/edit their listing.
  • To expand user and email subscriber growth. We need more people to do manual outreach to share this with their friends, family, employer, and moves/shakers in the community.

Contact: Paul Lemley ( 

This project provides case numbers and projections + a comprehensive listing of Milwaukee area resources for people in need, and ways for people to help fulfill that need.

Through this project you can find the most-up-to-date information on cases and estimates given trends and a growing evidence base, as well as a categorized listing of ways to get or give support.

Current status of the project:

Here’s How You Can Help:

  • There is a need for someone to manage social media for the project and highlight 1-2 projects 2x/day 
  • Light UI/UX work to improve flow of the site.

Contact: Kyle Halleman ( + Andrew Yaspan (


How Can Wisconsin Flatten the Curve?

How does Wisconsin Flatten the Curve?

We have to learn from our friends in Italy and China. The pattern is evident and persistent.

Here’s what we know:

  • People can carry the virus without displaying any symptoms.
  • When people don’t show symptoms they carry out their lives as normal interacting with people.

This is the danger. People are spreading the virus at a rapid rate.

The data over the past 2 months has shown us that as the tests become more accessible the number of cases begin to increase. At this point tests are not a precursor of what is to come..they reveal what currently exists. The cases are far higher than we know and are growing at a rapid rate.. with or without the tests revealing the magnitude of the crisis.

The problem: as the tests become available more hospital/ beds will be required.. The quicker we identify cases the quicker we start running out of beds.

Here are the main things that we should do:

  • Identify areas with higher concentrations of vulnerable people.
  • Facilitate local preparedness (e.g. hospitals, first responders, community health workers)
    • Anticipate that a percentage of these individuals will become infected.
  • Plan for additional healthcare use.
    • Leverage vacant buildings as hospitals.
  • Plan for and coordinate efforts with other organizations
    • All hands on deck

My biggest concern is that we are not prepared with enough hospitals, first responders and community health workers ..

Let’s look at the data:

Italy had 1,701 cases March 1st. Two days later they had 2,502 impacting .0000417% of their population. The number of cases made a .47% jump in two days.

The United States has 328 million people compared to 60 million in Italy. 1,701 in Italy is comparable to 9,382 in the US. In two days the US jumped from 9,382 to 19,383 cases impacting .000059 % of our population.. a little more than Italy’s population impacted after two days. The US growth was 106%  compared to Italy’s .47% in two days.

The data shows that we are only several days away from having an Italy like scenario.  

Let’s validate:

March 1st Italy had .000028% of their population impacted and March 18th we had .000028% of our population impacted. It took 18 days for us to have the same percentage of our population affected as theirs. Italy reached an inflection point 12 days later(highlighted in red) ..the table to the right shows we are projected to hit ours sooner. The data implies we are going to eclipse Italy. This is believable because of our densely populated cities (NY, Chicago, Atlanta, LA).

Italy reported complete saturation around March 12th at 15k cases.

If they were to scale to US size that would be 82 thousand.. Using Italy as a baseline the US would begin reaching capacity somewhere close to March 24th – March 25. It’s a known fact that the United States has less hospitals per capita than Italy. Italy has 3.2 hospitals per 1000 and the US has 2.8.

The United States had 6,411 cases March 17th and by March 20th had 19,383. The average rate of cases are going up 42% each day. Its projected the nation will reach ~50k cases.. by March 23rd.

What does this mean for Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has a population of 5.8 Million people which is 8% of Italy.

We’ll do basic comparisons against Italy (worst case in the world).

When Italy had 655 cases (.00001% of population) this is equivalent to WI having 53 cases (.00001)% . WI reached this point March 16th.

Feb 29 Italy had 1128 cases (.000018%) which is equivalent to WI having 90 cases (.000018%).. We crossed this threshold by March 18th.

March 1st Italy had 1701 cases(.000028% of their population) this is equivalent to WI having 136 cases… we passed this March 19th this is .000027% of our population.

Italy had 1701(.00003 of their population ..we rounded up) cases, a week later Italy had 5000 cases  (.00008% of their population ). This is roughly equivalent to 158 in WI(.00003% of the population). If we’re keeping up with Italy’s pace we will have a projected 650 cases by March 28th. However it appears at our average growth rate we will reach this by March 25th 3 days before march 28th

Note: Growth rates refer to the percentage change of a specific variable within a specific time period. To calculate the growth rate I subtract the number of cases from the previous date and divide that number by the previous date. This equates to the percentage of growth between the two days.

Let’s validate

March 15: ~ 33 cases

March 16: ~47 cases —-42% growth

March 17: ~89 cases —- 89% growth

March 18: 123 cases— 38% growth

March 19: 158 cases – 28% growth

March 20: 234 cases– 48% growth

March 21: 282—20% growth

If we remove the outlier on March 17th of 89% growth (although someone should explain this) we have an average growth of 35 % a day. The Median growth is ~33%. Italy’s average growth rate was 33% until March 8th . After March 8th the growth rate converged to 15% ..  Note –March 8th is when they went on full lock down. Let’s learn from this.

 Wisconsin’s growth projection through the first week in April with a consistent 33% growth rate.

Wisconsin’s growth projection through the first week in April with consistent 22% growth rate

Italy’s hospitals were completely saturated March 12th at 15,113. That’s comparable to 1,964 cases which we are projected to reach by March 28th/29th (at a growth rate of 33%)

I like to think we can handle 1964 cases by March 28th.. However I don’t believe we have enough beds with ventilators to accommodate this scenario. Let’s be a bit optimistic and locate our inflection point where number of beds and equipment correspond to the anticipated need.  

The questions we must ask ourselves:

  • How many hospital beds are available?
  • How many hospital beds are available with ventilators?
  • How many days before our hospitals are completely saturated?

I’m not aware of how many hospitals WI has available so I’ll make an educated guess.

The US only has 900,000 hospital beds. 60 -70% are taken at any given time. 70% of 900k is 630k.. After doing some common sense calculations it appears WI should  have ~5,400 beds available.   

When do we surpass the need for more than 5,400 beds?

The data above shows that with a consistent growth rate of 33% by April 5th we’ll possibly have 24k+ documented people with COVID-19. 20% of Corona cases are hospitalized. Meaning we’ll be approaching 5k people needing beds by April 4th.

At the growth of .33% everyday our hospitals may start to become exhausted by April 5th.. At the growth rate of .22% we have until April 11th before hospitals are exhausted. After March 12th when Italy reached their capacity deaths started coming in every day over 200+.

It’s very possible by mid April .. we will be turning people away if we don’t take necessary action now.

This is when the deaths start rising like crazy and we end up in the same situation as Italy.

A concern: As more tests become available it’s only going to reveal that more of us have the virus than we initially suspected..people will be panicked and could easily begin to exhaust our hospitals with visits before they begin showing symptoms.

Another concern: If we don’t practice the California “self- sheltering” type of lock down people will continue spreading the virus as they carry on grocery shopping, pumping gas, essential needs trips and negligently visiting friends and parents etc.. This will again increase the cases quicker and cause for the hospitals to get exhausted possibly before April 11th..

Third concern: Death rates. When Italy had 232 cases 7 deaths were documented( 3% of their cases). WI has 282 cases with 4 deaths.. which is 1%..  our rate will begin to climb like Italy’s if we run out of capacity in the hospitals. My data projects that WI will reach 344 cases by the end of March 22nd if we continue to grow at 22% growth rate. Italy is reported 800+ deaths in 24 hours yesterday.

By March 28th we will begin to struggle and by the first week in April I feel we will be needing extra help (note our cases are growing at a quicker rate due to soft shut and increased accessibility to masks).

Actions to Take:

  • Request Military all hands on deck help to build more hospitals, we need more beds and more masks ASAP.. Scope out which hotels or vacant buildings can be repurposed for hospitals for the worst case scenario..
  • Put everyone on full lock down so that we can flatten the curve as much as possible.
    • It’s a simple idea: A huge wave of sudden cases in just a few weeks will saturate our emergency rooms. The same number of cases spread over several months will surely stress the capacity of hospitals but not completely overwhelm them.
    • We need to get people in the house so that cases don’t skyrocket.. (I fear that the more tests we have available will reveal that so many of us already have it because of how long its taken us to go on lock down.)
  • Waiting on the federal government to make a decision for us at this point is criminal.
  • We need Governor Tony Evers to make a Stay Home Order immediately.

What if we take the above precautions..put in all the work.. and none of the above projections happen?

That’s the point…better safe than sorry.


Latoya Freeman, The Woman and The Journey

Latoya Freeman, a healthcare IT professional by day and an entrepreneur by night, knows what it feels like to be left behind and to be deemed a failure. She recalled the experience of failing the second grade but then being allowed to pass into third grade special ed classes as the pivotal moment when she realized her work had to exceed expectations if she was going to have a chance at obtaining any of her goals. In fact, when one carefully examines her personal and professional career arc, her penchant for working harder than everybody else is very noticeable. A trait that wasn’t necessarily inherent but one who began to manifest when she worked her way from those special education classes into the gifted and talented program. This would continue into her high school years where she would qualify for AP classes until earning a scholarship to Marquette.

Latoya, reflected on her time at Marquette and the internship she ended up earning at Rockwell Automation before she began to emphasize the importance of doing this interview with the Milky Way Tech Hub. After relenting to the pressure of being one of the very few African-American women with an electrical engineering major and working inside Rockwell, she reverted to quitting for the first time in her life. Though it’s not a period of her life she’s proud of, it is why she connects to the Milky Way Tech Hub’s mission to diversify the STEM fields. After experiencing what she describes as isolation and knowing what it’s like to feel totally disconnected from the culture at Marquette and Rockwell, she relates to Nadiyah Johnson’s and the Milky Way Tech Hub’s initiative to help implement more diversity and inclusion within STEM.

However after an introspective period in her life following her decision to drop out and quit her internship she met a mentor through a series of events, that introduced her to IT at a healthcare organization, she chooses not to name. Latoya continued in that role for eight years before transitioning to Aurora. It wasn’t long before the same principle of working harder than everybody else drove her to learn and gain the knowledge of a systems and business analyst. It was her way of ensuring she could not become expendable and the knowledge in both areas enables her to be able to consider all possibilities when troubleshooting and considering all outcomes for her clients. It’s been a ten year journey to earn the respect she now has in the healthcare IT field.

The reputation and status she has earned has also afforded her the opportunity to invest in an online platform, entitled Legal Shield. Legal Shield helps people to gain access to attorneys for a much cheaper price. The initial investment into the platform became attractive because of the combination of the IT factor and her belief that everyone should have access to an attorney, no matter their economic status. She’s especially, keen on the idea of black men having equal access and protection because of the current state of the criminal justice system. Latoya also did not shy away from commenting on how important it is to engage the youth as a method of preventing them from getting lost in a broken system that historically, hasn’t treated them equally.

Latoya, encourages youth from under served and under estimated communities, to “out work the work” and to not attempt shortcuts, nor to shy away from long days and a lot of hours. She also was adamant about the need for reaching back for the next generation as mentors and not leaving them to fend for themselves, while trying to navigate their way into STEM. She also left open the possibility of assisting Nadiyah’s and the Milky Way Tech Hub, in a variety of ways, if called upon. Latoya wants all to know that despite working with innovative and cutting edge technology, she believes in the old school mentality of “it taking a village” and “the all hands on deck” approach of ushering in a more diverse generation of STEM employees.


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.


Tech Entrepreneurs Compete for $10,000 in The Milky Way Tech for Good Pitch Out! – Meet the Finalist

The Milky Way Tech for Good Pitch Out gives early stage startups an opportunity to pitch in front of their community, compete with their peers for funding and for the Milky Way Tech Hub community to rally around early stage startups.

Date and time:

Come enjoy an amazing pitch competition featuring tech start-ups in the Milky Way Tech Hub during Startup Milwaukee Week!

This pitch competition will bring leading entrepreneurs to The Milky Way Tech Hub – Milwaukee’s diverse tech ecosystem with the goal of supporting, empowering, and providing new and equitable funding opportunities to these entrepreneurs.

The event will be held November 16th at 88nine Radio 6pm-8pm. The Seven finalist will pitch their ideas to the judges and the crowd, competing for first, second and third place. First prize winner will be awarded $10,000 and consulting from Morpheus Advisors LLC.

Register Here! :

Meet The Finalist!

Founder: Tania Dsouza Almeida

Hope’s AI powered technology makes it easy for women to connect with doctors, counselors or holistic wellness practitioners and helps them each step of the way. Through messenger, Hope befriends and subtly educates, empowers and supports victims of abuse.

Founder: Chantel Teague

StyleQ is a mobile marketplace that connects users to beauty and wellness professionals, instantly. Using StyleQ, users request services from a selected professional with one tap of a button.

Founder: Jasmine Chigbu

Minorities to Majorities is a mobile app based platform designed to help under-represented students calculate and fill their financial needs by connecting them with opportunities, without the barriers.

Founder: Safia Siddiqui

DisasterMed is a software platform that identifies acute medical needs of disaster victims in real-time and by location. This is accessible by relief agencies and government entities simultaneously, allowing for efficient logistical decisions.

Founder: Brian Mckee

Traditional outreach has depended upon grassroots volunteering, which can be inconsistent. Businesses with large sales teams have expensive overhead costs to hire employees to get the results needed. Our solution connects people to causes using crowd sourcing and reduces overhead costs for businesses by using the app to pay canvassers to go to neighborhoods and businesses.

Founder: Shayvon McCullum

Secure Bridges is a security app to collect human trafficking data as well as city to city resources and youth profiles to end the local sex trade of children in the Milwaukee area. Secure Bridges raises awareness and promotes advocacy through strategic partnerships.

Founder: Kendrick Pullen

LifeTagger is a messaging platform that allows you to share content based on your proximity to any person, place, thing, or idea. LifeTagger allows you to add more context to your message by leveraging all the signals your phone is currently detecting. The platform allows you to send messaging in the best context (time, location, audio, bluetooth, wifi) for your intended recipient.

Big Thank you to Presenting Partner of The Milky Way Tech Hub American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact for making this event possible.


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


A Moment with the Founder of Crowd Canvass

Interview With Brian Mckee

By Shaun Wanzo

Brian Mckee’s path to becoming an experienced Information Science and Technology Cybersecurity Professional, a leader in City of Light Church and in the community began as a teenager.  He developed a passion for serving others early in his teen years by engaging the youth in mentoring programs. A passion that was further cultivated within Marquette’s Upward Bound Program where he was paired with a mentor of his own.

Brian’s mentor, Steven Robertson, a man of strong faith and conviction was also a math and science staff member.  He also gifted Brian his first Bible and imparted the wisdom of making faith and spirituality the launch pad for the trajectory of all facets of his life.  This experience would serve Brian well as he transitioned from high school to UW-Madison’s college campus.

He possessed the discipline and aptitude to tackle the IST curriculum at one of the country’s top universities.  Yet, it was a technical issue with his pc that led to the creation of his first business, which involved troubleshooting and fixing other students’ laptops.  This entrepreneurial endeavor not only earned him extra cash to cover the costs of his education but it also offered the opportunity for him to continually serve.

It was a need that did not dissipate once he received an undergraduate degree in Information Science and Technology with an emphasis in Cybersecurity.  He became a licensed minister at Holy Redeemer Church, where he served as the youth minister until elevating to elder pastor.  Brian also became the director of Information Technology at Destiny High School.  The purpose of serving in both of these roles was to fulfill a need that would add value to people’s lives. This sense of humanity has been a constant theme since those pivotal teen years of his.

Therefore, even while building a sixteen year career as an IST professional, working for companies such as FIS Global and Komatsu, he continued to be a leader in the church and the community.  Brian Mckee, once again saw a huge void because of racial tensions within Milwaukee, that were steeped within a socio economic disconnect.  This divide propelled him to establish the City of Light Church, located at 6725 West Burleigh Street.

The City of Light Church is proud of attracting people from all types of ethnic and economic backgrounds.  Brian and his board has also established the City of Light Community Development Corp., which is located within the same building.  It is through this separate 501c(3) they are collaborating with Habitat for Humanity and the Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention. These entities have formed this partnership to focus on exterior residential improvements in under served communities.  Brian also spoke very proudly of the event the City of Light hosted August 31 he described as a resource fair and backpack giveaway.

When I asked Brian if there were any other initiatives he was presently working on he replied eagerly with a detailed explanation describing an app he has currently in development.  Crowd Canvas will be a tech space where people can crowd source street teams of volunteers. “My vision is to empower everybody to make change in whatever cause they want to take on in whatever community they choose”. Brian fondly mentioned how he’s known Nadiyah Johnson, founder of Jet Constellations and The Milky Way Tech Hub for many years.  However, the deciding factor in choosing her to collaborate on Crowd Canvass is the vast amount of skills she has developed while working as an engineer at GE Healthcare.

Brian also applauds the Milky Way Tech Hub’s mission to diversify the STEM fields and the Milky Way’s emphasis on mentoring and service to kids from under served communities. He spoke about the importance of those kids seeing someone that looks like them teach them the skills necessary to be successful in the tech fields. The accomplished tech professional, pastor and the man passionate about community outreach and engagement warned those set to embark on a journey into the STEM fields about trying to take shortcuts.  He wants all readers to know that it takes time and sacrifice to reach your goals.  And the true journey doesn’t begin until you reach back and pull someone else along.


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.