SHEBOYGAN- Imagine a place with a program where the area’s best and brightest college students could collaborate with Sheboygan County companies to solve business problems. It could happen at Jake’s Cafe this fall, if the results of a recently held pilot program attract the necessary sponsors.


The program is modeled after a similar program called “The Commons” which was successfully launched in Milwaukee last year. Joe Poeschel, Michael Hostad and Maggie Daus, co-founders of the Milwaukee-based Commons, worked with area companies to hold a pilot program called an “Innovation Sprint” at Jake’s Cafe the weekends of March 19th and April 4th. It was a resounding success, according to Poeschl who led the event both weekends. Sartori Cheese and Acuity were among the event’s lead sponsors.


“Over 50 students from nine area colleges participated in the event,” smiled Poeschl. “We had two full days of cross-disciplinary teamwork. It was awesome!”


Students learned the basics of market segmentation, target identification, ideation, teamwork, problem solving and presentation skills. Students were divided into nine teams and given one of three different innovation challenges. Each team then presented their final concepts to a crowd of nearly 100 people. Presentations were limited to three minutes.


Every team had the opportunity to develop and practice their presentations with area businessman who acted as mentors and coaches to help them fine-tune their ideas and presentation skills, according to Michael Hostad. “We had some great ideas surface at this event,” said Hostad. “It was a reflection of the good students and good schools we have in the area. The key benefit of the program is to help students develop strong bonds with area companies, so that some might be hired and stay in the area.”


While no concrete plans have been secured to launch a Sheboygan-based “Commons,” this was this first step in the process. If local area companies back the program with the necessary funding—which is projected to be in the neighborhood of $150,000 per year—things could get off the ground as early as next fall, according to Tryg Jacobson, president of Jake’s Cafe.


“Fortunately, we have more World-Class manufacturing/process companies per capita than anywhere in Wisconsin,” said Jacobson. “There is interest in both the education and business communities. There is no reason why the Commons concept couldn’t work here. I’m optimistic”


Overall, the Innovation Sprint received very positive feedback from students, according to Poeschl. “Many made it clear how much they enjoyed working with other talented and motivated students from other schools and other disciplines. They also really enjoyed working on the open-ended challenges–taking the opportunity to really dig in and explore something without a known answer. It was a unique and valuable experience that increased their confidence to work on a team, solve real problems and think creatively. We have a strong feeling that we will be seeing big things from these students in the future!”