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.


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!


“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

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!


Startup Milwaukee Week Emphasizes the Importance of Diversity in Milwaukee’s Tech and Startup Ecosystem

JetConstellationsdesignstudio (5)

Jet Constellations Presents the Inaugural
Startup Milwaukee Week Diversity Track

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – As Milwaukee’s startup community continues to grow it is extremely important that this community is a reflection of Milwaukee’s diverse population. Startup Milwaukee recognizes the importance of diversity in Milwaukee’s tech and startup ecosystems and is partnering with Jet Constellations, a local startup focused on building a nurturing ecosystem of techies and entrepreneurs that represent Milwaukee’s diverse population to ensure inclusion through Startup Milwaukee Week’s diversity track programming.

This is the first year Startup Milwaukee Week which runs November 5 – 11, 2018 has included a diversity track which will include nine events hosted by organizations such as Jet Constellations, MalmaDoe, Spearity and 88nine Radio Milwaukee.

“Having a strong STEM workforce that is inclusive of people from diverse backgrounds is critical for the Milwaukee region to be competitive in the 21st century,” said Nadiyah Johnson founder of Jet Constellations “We are committed to closing the diversity gap in Milwaukee’s tech and  startup community and aim to raise awareness of the need to do so throughout Startup Milwaukee Week’s diversity track.”

“Cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce for the tech and startup community would be a competitive advantage for Milwaukee as we continue to develop the ecosystem,” said Matt Cordio president of Skills Pipeline and organizer of Startup Milwaukee Week. “We are excited to partner with Jet Constellations as part of our commitment to advance the tech community, moving southeastern Wisconsin’s economy forward, and provide more opportunity to build and grow a pipeline of startups and technology talent.”

According to Pew Research, Black and Hispanic workers continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Blacks are 9% of STEM workforce while being 11% of the total US workforce. The lack of representation of women, Blacks and Hispanics hold strong financial implications. It’s no secret that jobs in STEM fields average higher salaries compared with many non-STEM jobs. If there is not a significant push for STEM education in underrepresented communities the wage gap will not only persist but also expand. There will be an approximate 9 million jobs in the STEM industry by 2022.

Jet Constellations believes that quality STEM education should be afforded to everyone not just the elite institutions. It is vital that we as a country understand what’s at stake and care enough to take action.

Diversity Track Event Information





Jet Constellations: The Milky Way –

Changing the Culture of STEM



88Nine Radio Milwaukee

MalmaDoe: Women Founder’s Business Lifecycle




Thrive: People Strategy – setting and growing thriving culture


1:00 PM

Technology Innovation Center

Spearity: Developing Inner City Tech Entrepreneurs


Milwaukee Networking Hub: Speednetworking – Building Relationships, One Round at a Time



Central Standard

UWM’s Immerisive Media Lab (Augmented & Virtual Realities):

Tour UWM’s Immersive Media Lab


9:00 AM

Kenilworth Square East Side of Building

Lubar Entrepreneurship Center:

UWM Social Good Morning with Dr. Moe Mukiibi


9:30 AM

UWM Freshwater Science

88Nine Radio Milwaukee:

88Nine Labs | Moving the needle: How new technology is changing the music industry


5:30 PM

Northwestern Mutual’s Cream City Labs

88Nine Radio Milwaukee:

88Nine x Capitol Records Hackathon


10:00 AM

Northwestern Mutual’s Cream City Labs

About Jet Constellations:

Jet Constellations is a community tech hub that functions to promote STEM education in our communities, consult tech oriented startups, and build a nurturing ecosystem of techies and entrepreneurs that represent Milwaukee’s diverse population. Startup Milwaukee Week’s  Diversity Track presented by Jet Constellations’ Milky Way initiative aims to promote diversity in Milwaukee‘s tech scene.

About Startup Week Milwaukee:

Startup Milwaukee Week presented by Advocate Aurora Health takes place on November 5 – 11, 2018, and is designed to connect, educate, and celebrate entrepreneurship in Southeast Wisconsin. The week’s programming showcases the community’s emerging companies while highlighting the resources and organizations available to foster support for entrepreneurs on their journey. The week will feature 40+ events hosted by 35+ partner organizations in the community. Startup Milwaukee Week is supported by Advocate Aurora Health, Concordia University Wisconsin, Husch Blackwell, Northwestern Mutual, Accelity Marketing, Headway, Milwaukee Business Journal and Newsradio 620 WTMJ and is a part of the Startup Wisconsin initiative.


Tech-Hub for The Milky Way

stikerdesktop (1)Jet Constellations is a local startup that functions to promote STEM education in Milwaukee, consult tech oriented startups, and build a nurturing ecosystem of techies and entrepreneurs . Jet Constellations’ Milky Way initiative works to transform Milwaukee into a tech hub that represents the city’s diverse population through community workshops, panels, talks, hackathons and design thinking sessions.  It is evident diversity in STEM spurs innovation and plays a significant role in ensuring the best ideas and solutions see the light of day.  An inclusive tech scene in Milwaukee will help the city reach its full potential. Milwaukee will be known as The Milky Way, a tech hub made up of creators and innovators that are representative of its population.
Follow Jet Constellations
Instagram – @jetconstellations
Facebook- Jet Constellations


DeepVariant: Genomics Meet Deep Learning

Collage of DNA images and people

Yesterday I attended a talk on deep learning and genomics by Pi-Chauan Chang, a software engineer at Google.  Pi-Chauan gave a high level overview of deep learning and how her team formulates a problem in genomics to successfully apply deep learning techniques. She also discussed DeepVariant – a software built by Google to enable community efforts to progress genomic sequencing.

What is deep learning?:

Deep Learning is a subfield of machine learning concerned with algorithms inspired by the structure and function of the brain called artificial neural networks.

Deep learning is playing a huge role in advancements in genomic research such as high processing of sequencing techniques.  This information era where we continue to be presented with an outpouring of data has truly began to challenge conventional methods used in genomics. While deep learning has succeeded in a variety of fields such as vision, speech, and text processing it is now presented with the unique challenge of helping us to explore beyond our current knowledge to interpret the genome.

Pi-Chauan Chang shared that genome sequencing is a core technology in biology.. It allows us to ask how can we personalize medicine  based on genome?

What is a Genome?:

A genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic instructions. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build that organism and allow it to grow and develop.

There are 23 chromosome we inherent from our parents.

Most of our DNA is similar.. 99.9% of our DNA are the same– this makes us human..

Its the .1 pecent that makes us unique. 

The Human Genome Project was a milestone of genome sequencing . This was the massive international collaboration to map the complete human genome. This project outputted a  genome dictionary ~ 3.2 million characters.

A decade ago it was expensive to sequence it cost ~$1000 to sequence an individual. This creates much opportunity for precision medicine.

There is, however, a trade off.

The new sequencing technology has errors! From blood draw computational biologists get raw data(characters of ACTG) which are really short snippets of  the whole genome.. much like puzzle pieces. They try to map the puzzle pieces but are faced having to find the variants.

Variant calling:

Variant calling is the process by which we identify variants from sequence data.

Typically variant calling consist of a three step process:

  1. Carry out whole genome or whole exome sequencing to create FASTQ files.
  2. Align the sequences to a reference genome, creating BAM or CRAM files.
  3. Identify where the aligned reads differ from the reference genome and write to a VCF file.
A CRAM file aligned to a reference genomic region as visualised in Ensembl. Differences are highlighted in red in the reads, and will be called as variants.

The audience was informed that it is pretty common that computational biologists regularly inspect genomic data..

The question at hand is can we teach machines to perform the same task? Can we teach a machine to detect the variants?

This is where deep learning steps in.


DeepVariant is a deep learning technology to reconstruct the true genome sequence from HTS(high-throughput sequencing)  sequencer data with significantly greater accuracy than previous classical methods. DeepVariant transforms the task of variant calling, as this reconstruction problem is known in genomics, into an image classification problem well-suited to Google’s existing technology and expertise.

DeepVariant is now an open source software to encourage collaboration and to accelerate the use of this technology to solve real world problems!


Grace Hopper PitcHer Contest -2018


Yesterday I attended Grace Hopper’s inaugural PitcHer contest.  The goal of this pitch competition is to support, encourage, and provide new funding opportunities to women entrepreneurs. The top ten finalist competed for a grand total of $65,000.  I was elated to find that the first place prize went to my personal favorite, Shakeia Kegler.  Her business idea accompanied by her amazing stage presence sealed the deal! After chatting with her at the end of the event it was clear that she is a brilliant and down to earth woman with much to offer to the startup community. I was lucky enough to get a selfie with her at the end of the event! I’d love to invite her to Startup Milwaukee Week this year or next! Below are bios/business summaries of the winners.

 Shakeia Kegler – First Place!

Shakeia Kegler is from Saint Petersburg, Florida, and is the eldest of five girls. After graduating from high school in 2011, she joined the U.S. Navy. While enlisted, she gained experience in purchasing, compliance, and quality assurance while earning a bachelor’s degree in business management and her Lean Six Sigma Certifications.

After her honorable discharge, Shakeia worked as a compliance and contract specialist in the government, contracting department of a pharmaceutical company. Her experience in both the Navy and government led her to found GovLia in 2017. GovLia is a cloud-based platform that simplifies state and local government procurement processes to help increase small business participation in order to foster economic opportunity and growth for diverse companies and communities.

Hannah Meyer – Second Place

As COO of Pie for Providers, Hannah builds tools that aim to measurably and significantly strengthen small childcare businesses and empower the entrepreneurs that operate them. She is committed to not only building a profitable and scalable business, but doing so in a way that leads to better outcomes for women business owners, parents, children, and their communities.

Hannah holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and was awarded the Tarrson Fellowship for social entrepreneurs by the University of Chicago. She was also a Summer Associate at Ashoka in the Social Financial Services Department. Prior to coming to the University of Chicago, Hannah earned an MPPA from Northwestern University.

Charu Sharma – Third Place

Charu Sharma is the Founder & CEO of While working at LinkedIn, Charu started a mentorship program for women at the company as a passion project. This eventually inspired her to start NextPlay and to create meaningful mentorship relationships, especially for women and underrepresented minorities. NextPlay’s investors and advisors include 500 Startups, LinkedIn’s SVP Engineering, Techcrunch’s former CEO, and Microsoft’s former Chief Design Officer.

Companies like Square, Lyft, Asurion, and Splunk use the NextPlay mobile app to build sticky and measurable mentorship programs. After six months of using NextPlay’s app, mentees felt that their preparedness to achieve their goals at their companies had doubled, and mentors reported that they significantly developed their critical leadership and coaching skills. Collectively, the number of employees who strongly recommended working for their companies increased by 25%.

Charu previously built two startups. She has educated one million women on how to start their own businesses through her nonprofit, books, and documentary film “Go Against the Flow.”

Samantha J. Letscher – Audience Favorite

Sam Letscher is the Co-founder and CEO of Bossy, a platform that connects feminist consumers with women-owned businesses to drive revenue to women entrepreneurs. She launched Bossy in Chicago in the spring of 2017 while pursuing her bachelor’ degree in Integrated Engineering Studies at Northwestern University.

Sam is inspired by products, services, experiences, brands, and workplaces built by women, for women, and from which women profit. She is now a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in human-centered design and entrepreneurship.

Sam lives in Chicago where she is building and bootstrapping Bossy while working part-time in local politics. She strives to always stay curious and optimistic.


Grace Hopper 2018 – Training generative adversarial networks: A challenge?

Our-text-conditional-convolutional-GAN-architecture-Text-encoding-pht-is-used-by-bothToday I had the pleasure of attending a very interesting workshop on generative adversarial networks. The goal of the workshop was to teach attendees about deep learning and Generative Adversarial Networks (GANS).  In the lab we used PyTorch, an open source deep learning framework, used to demonstrate and explore this type of neural network architecture. The lab was comprised of two major parts an introduction to both PyTorch and GANs followed by text-to-image generation.

The first part of the lab began by importing torch modules, creating a simple linear transformation model creating a loss function to understand the difference between our model and the ground truth.

Next we ran our model on a GPU! Earlier in the session we learned that GPUs work well for deep learning because they are inherently parallel.
With GPUs, trained neural networks can occur in minutes.

We then began to focus more on GANs. The facilitators of the workshop shared that GANs are getting widespread attention in the deep learning community for their image generation and style transfer capabilities.
This deep learning technique uses two neural networks in a adversarial way to complete its objective.

One network is called the generator and the other the discriminator. The discriminator network is trained with a dataset comprised of real data and output from the generator network, and its objective is to discriminate between the two. The generator network’s objective is to fool the discriminator into classifying its output as real data. While training the generator is updated to generate data that mimics the real data and fool the discriminator.

In this part of the lab attendees were tasked to :

  • Feed data into PyTorch using Numpy
  • Create a multi-layer network
  • Configure the generator and discriminator network
    • Learn how to update the generator network

The second part of the lab  we built upon the popular Deep Convolution Generative Adversarial Network (DCGAN)  to enable text to image generation. This part of the lab was based on the paper Generative Adversarial Text to Image Synthesis by Reed et, al.  Captions of images were encoded and concatenated with the input noise vector before being propagated to the generator. Then the encoded caption was concatenated again with a feature map in the discriminator network after the fourth leaky Rectified Linear Unit (ReLU) layer.The goal of the second half of the lab was to create a text to image model by using the GAN+CLS technique.

We demonstrated the capability of our model to generate plausible images of pizzas and broccoli from detailed text descriptions/captions. While this was just a case for learning purposes its clear that there are many powerful applications to this deep learning technique.


Don't Just Consume Technology.. Produce it.

Its important to not only be consumers of technology but producers as well.

“A new study released Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.”