FOR-M, a free incubator that's part of the recently activated MKE Tech Hub Coalition, is being used to strengthen Milwaukee's tech supply chain of talent, startup companies and idea generation.
FOR-M launched on Oct. 4 and was developed out of interactions with entrepreneurs at events put on by Northwestern Mutual throughout the year, said Archna Sahay, consultant to MKE Tech Hub Coalition. Through those events, it was determined Milwaukee needed an entry-point program for entrepreneurs who have an idea for a tech product or service, but have not yet created a company and are not ready to participate in an accelerator or pitch of their idea to investors.
Essentially, the incubator program becomes a feeder system for the more established accelerators in the Milwaukee area run by gener8tor, The Water Council and the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, she said.
Earlier this month, Kohl's Corp., Rockwell Automation Inc., Johnson Controls International plc, Advocate Aurora Health Care and Accenture, which is incorporated in Dublin, Ireland, but has an office in Milwaukee, joined Northwestern Mutual as the six founding companies of the MKE Tech Hub Coalition. The six companies have pledged a two-year commitment to contribute a combined $5 million to fund the non-for-profit coalition.
The coalition will fund Milwaukee programs and initiatives that support tech workers and tech startup companies, like FOR-M, which stands for For Milwaukee.
FOR-M is a 10-week program for tech-focused entrepreneurs, who will receive mentorship and advice from professionals from the business community. Those accepted into the incubator – and there is no cap on the number of companies, Sahay said – are required to commit to two hours per week for the duration of the program.
The Commons, an entrepreneurial skills accelerator for college students in southeast Wisconsin that's an initiative of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and We Pivot, a Milwaukee-area organization that's dedicated to creating diversity within the tech industry, are partnering on the operation of FOR-M. In addition to mentorship, FOR-M will create a support system to help entrepreneurs navigate the prototype-building phase, find customers, and raise capital from investors, Sahay said.
FOR-M will be split into a fall and spring session. Applications for the fall session will close Oct. 28. The session will start later this fall.
A system like FOR-M, Sahay said, can help Milwaukee better attract and retain young entrepreneurs and college graduates. It also serves as a bridge across the community, linking startups and new technologies with larger companies.