Disruptive Technologies Lab aims to help fill tech job demand

A UWM lab where students learn cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrency also has the capacity to fill an important need in southeastern Wisconsin.

The Disruptive Technologies Lab can help get students ready to fill jobs or become the future entrepreneurs needed to help Milwaukee attract and retain employees in the growing tech sector, said Matthew Friedel, a co-founder of the lab and senior lecturer in the School of Information Studies.

“The lab supports the emerging regional technology ecosystem, and serves as a hub for research, collaboration and innovation,” Friedel said.

But growing that ecosystem requires more workers with the skills needed to fill those jobs.

A report commissioned last year by MKE Tech Hub estimated that there were nearly 76,000 tech sector workers in southeastern Wisconsin in 2017, with potentially 31,000 openings in the sector over the following five years. It found that technology-dependent industries contributed more than $27.6 billion in regional impact in 2017.

Area lags behind

The report found that the number of jobs in what was called the “tech talent cluster” grew in the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area by 7.4% between 2010 and 2017, lagging behind similarly sized metropolitan areas.

Separately, CBRE Group, a  global commercial real estate company, ranked Milwaukee No. 44 among the 50 largest U.S. and Canadian markets in a report that measured a metropolitan area’s ability to attract and grow tech talent.

Friedel advocates passionately for Milwaukee’s potential as a tech center and UWM’s role in spurring that development, so much so that he is a presenter at this year’s Fall Experiment conference on Oct. 4-5 at the Wisconsin Center. On its website, Fall Experiment is described as “an immersive tech, art, gaming and music festival that convenes creators from all over the Greater Midwest.”

“We now have the ability to teach students these advanced technologies in addition to entrepreneurial thinking including business model canvassing, and key insights and how to raise money for their ventures,” Friedel said. “This is a powerful combination that will help grow the tech ecosystem in Wisconsin.”

The Disruptive Technologies Lab opened in the spring of 2018, a space that Friedel said was created to help support the emergent regional technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Milwaukee. The School of Information Studies plans to expand the lab space as part of a renovation of its home in the Northwest Quadrant over the next couple years.

Learning on the cutting edge

Students get a hands-on approach to developing technologies. For instance, Friedel and graduate student Alexander Breen developed a training cryptocurrency at the lab last fall. Cryptocurrency is a form of online payment that can be exchanged for goods and services.
The lab is one of several efforts or collaborations at UWM with the goal of producing talent to fill jobs in growing fields. They include:

  • UWM, Marquette University and Northwestern Mutual have partnered to create the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute. Over the next five years, Northwestern Mutual and its foundation will contribute $15 million to support an endowed professorship at each university, as well as research projects, new data science faculty, expanded curriculum development, K-12 STEM learning opportunities and pre-college programming.

UWM and Marquette University will each invest more than $12 million in data science education and research by existing data science faculty, bringing the total combined commitment in this effort to nearly $40 million.

  • The Connected Systems Institute at UWM allows researchers and industry partners to conduct advanced research related to digital manufacturing and prepare a skilled workforce, blending expertise from the Lubar School of Business, the College of Engineering & Applied Science and the School of Information Studies.
  • UWM is one of 18 higher education institutions in southeastern Wisconsin in the Higher Education Regional Alliance, which aims to significantly reduce skills and talent gaps by increasing employment rates and the number of post-secondary graduates in the region.

School of Information Studies Dean Tomas Lipinski said Disruptive Technologies will rely on close partnerships with industry and institutional partners who will serve as mentors, sponsors and help with curriculum development.

“The lab will teach our students to harness the power of data,” Lipinski said.

More in Science & Technology

Top Stories