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SUMMERFEST TECH GUEST SPEAKERS 

Summerfest Tech has assembled national, regional, and local leaders in their field to create a star lineup. Explore our speakers and their biographies below.

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Keynote Executives

Denis V. Batalov

Denis V. Batalov, PhD

Denis v. batalov, phd

Worldwide Tech Leader for AI/ML

Amazon Web Services

As a 17-year Amazon veteran and PhD in Machine Learning, Denis worked on such exciting projects as Search Inside the Book, Amazon Mobile apps and Kindle Direct Publishing. Since 2013 he has helped AWS customers adopt AI/ML technology as a Solutions Architect. Currently Denis is a Worldwide Tech Leader for AI/ML responsible for the functioning of AWS ML Specialists Solutions Architects globally. Denis is a frequent public speaker, you can follow him on Twitter: @dbatalov.

Tim Dickson

Tim Dickson

tim dickson

Chief Information Officer

Generac Power Systems

Tim Dickson has served as Generac Power System's Chief Information Officer since August 2020. Dickson previously served as the Vice President of Front Office IT at Motorola Solutions from 2015-2018, and additionally served as a divisional CIO leading Emerging Technologies, M&A, and User Experience for Dell, Inc from 2004-2015.

Matthew Friedel

Matthew Friedel

Matthew Friedel

Co-Founder of Milwaukee Venture Partners MVP Angel Network

Senior Lecturer, UWM
Adjunct Faculty, Marquette University
Co-Founder of Disruptive Technologies Laboratory, UWM

Matthew teaches a Graduate level class: Applied Web 3.0: Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain in UWM’s new $10 million Lubar Entrepreneurship Center that promotes entrepreneurial and design thinking with emphasis on cross pollination of disciplines.  

Matt is also a Lubar Entrepreneurship Ideas Challenge Fellow, National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps mentor and is working with other faculty and staff on cross disciplinary learning.  

The focus of Matt’s course will be applie hands-on development in emerging technologies including AI Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain innovations.  Matt has an BS in engineering from UWM and MS in Engineering and MBA from Marquette University with focus on entrepreneurship and has consulted on software projects for Northwestern Mutual, Summerfest, RW. Baird, and Kohls.  

He now brings his experience in startups, investing, and advance technologies to the creation of a new collaborative cross disciplinary startup-tech ecosystem at UWM.

Greg Gernert Jr.

Greg Gernert Jr. 

Greg Gernert Jr.

Vice President & General Manager

Rockwell Automation

Effective September 2, 2019, Greg was named Vice President and General Manager of the Motion Control Business. In this role, Greg leads all motion control product marketing, product development, profit & loss management, and customer & sales pursuit opportunities. Prior to that Greg was the director, Control & Visualization Business (CVB) since February 2018. In that role, Greg was responsible for leading the product management organization in developing and executing the strategy for CVB hardware business globally.

In 2010, Greg joined Rockwell Automation and has held roles of increasing responsibility in both Global Sales & Marketing (GSM) and CVB. Before joining Rockwell Automation, Greg held leadership (sales, engineering, operations and general management) and project management roles at Rimrock Corporation and Siemens, respectively.

Some of Greg current activities includes: focusing on accelerating growth in EMEA & AP through new product introductions, market access expansion, and inorganic opportunities. Collaborating with GSM to accelerate Independent Cart Technology growth through sales enablement and global market adoption. Leading the company’s robotic initiative, currently prioritizing feature development and strategic

Born in Tiffin, Ohio Greg is married to Jackie who have two children: Drew (17) and Lucas (14), who are both very active in sports. Greg holds a bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering from DeVry Institute of Technology and an MBA from Ohio State University.

Amanda Knutson

Amanda Knutson

Amanda Knutson

Supervisory Special Agent
FBI

Supervisory Special Agent Amanda J. Knutson entered the FBI in 2010 as a Special Agent and was assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office where she worked on a Cyber squad responsible for conducting both criminal and national security computer intrusion investigations. In 2016, SSA Knutson was promoted to Supervisory Special Agent and served as a Program Manager within Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 2018, SSA Knutson was selected and served as the Unit Chief over Asia Cyber Operations Unit within Cyber Division. In these roles, Ms. Knutson managed several high-profile national security Cyber investigations. In 2019, SSA Knutson was selected as a Supervisory Special Agent at the Milwaukee Field Office to run the Cyber Task Force. Prior to her appointment at the FBI, SSA Knutson worked as a microbiologist in the pharmaceutical industry focused on biological quality assurance. SSA Knutson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and forensic chemistry. 

Amber Malone

Amber Malone

amber malone

Vice President of Engineering for the Global Controls & Automation Team

Generac

Amber Malone is an engineering leader with more than 16 years of experience in a variety of product design and development roles including embedded controls development and leadership, program management, advanced technology leadership, and systems engineering leadership in the Aerospace, Powersports, and Energy Technology industries.  She has 7 US patents and 5 European patents in autonomous vehicle controls and engine/vehicle controls integration, an MBA from Carlson School of Management, a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from St. Cloud State University, and an associate in arts degree from Anoka Ramsey Community College.  

Amber is passionate about collaboratively developing and implementing innovative, customer-focused business and technical strategies and solutions.  She is currently the VP of Engineering for the Global Controls & Automation Team at Generac Power Systems where she leads a talented engineering team located across three countries in developing energy technology related control systems.

David Manske

David Manske

David Manske

Senior Director in Digital Innovation

Northwestern Mutual

David Manske is a Senior Director in Digital Innovation at Northwestern Mutual. His undergraduate degree is in software engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and he earned an MBA from Marquette University.

David has been building custom software for the last 20 years, initially in e-sports. He also worked for a supply chain and logistics start-up and provided software consulting for the Milwaukee Brewers, Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls and Quad Graphics. He has been in innovation at Northwestern Mutual since 2016, focused on emerging technologies and innovation for our clients, the field and home office. He's happily married with two young boys, Abraham and Callaway, and is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for all things involving software development. After work, he loves a good bourbon or IPA.

Mal Montoya

Mal Montoya

Mal Montoya

President & CEO

Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN)

Upon being named President & CEO of MARN in 2019, Mal Montoya began a two-and-a-half-year project to build what would become the new MARN ART + CULTURE HUB in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. With a focus on art, innovation, and technology, Mal turned his focus to activating the HUB, creating a new and exciting multi-faceted destination for artists and those who appreciate their work.

Mal now leads the team that manages a contemporary art gallery, innovation studio, local maker’s marketplace, and a wine and coffee café within the HUB that also serves as the organization’s headquarters. Anticipating the new world of Web 3.0 Mal has formed an Innovation Committee that is venturing into the novel decentralized future of organizations and economic opportunities.

In addition to his work with MARN, Mal serves on the Board of Directors for Imagine MKE, Arts Wisconsin, and is the Treasurer of the Historic Third Ward Association.

Sabha Museteif

Sabha Museteif

Sabha Museteif

Director, High Performance Organization

Rockwell Automation

Sabha is a technologist who is inspired to increase diversity among tech professionals. She enables infrastructure needed to empower and deliver digital transformation and industrial IoT for their multiple manufacturing plants and 24,000+ employees globally.

Sabha is a highly driven, results-orientated tech leader with experience in portfolio management, managing large programs and complex enterprise initiatives. She has a diverse skill set focused on leadership, delivery and results harbored with technical knowledge and expertise in global program management, IT transformation, agile principles, project and organizational design, and a customer service focus. Described as forward thinking, versatile, proactive, and a relationship builder who is driven by new challenges, Sabha’s passion is IT transformation, business analysis and continuous improvement.

In addition to her role with Rockwell, Sabha is a part-time adjunct professor, Lean Six Sigma certified, and an active volunteer for Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).  She enjoys educating others about the changing careers in tech, especially technical career paths.

Chris Nardecchia

Chris Nardecchia

Chris Nardecchia

Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Information Technology

Rockwell Automation

Chris Nardecchia is senior vice president, Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Rockwell Automation. Chris is responsible for strategic vision, operational excellence and change leadership for the development and implementation of information technology initiatives and architecture across our company. Chris drives our corporate information technology strategy and internal transformation, creating digital solutions that enhance our Rockwell Automation capabilities internally and externally. Chris began his career at Rockwell Automation in 2017. Prior to joining the company, Chris was vice president and CIO, Global Operations and Supply Chain, at Amgen, Inc. He also held leadership roles at Pfizer and Warner Lambert, which was aquired by Pfizer. At these companies, he led IT-enabled business and digital strategy and accelerated growth through technology and data analytics. He drove business innovations that improved profitability, globalization, restructuring and mergers. He has an extensive background with portfolio management, engineering, operations, mergers and acquisitions, IT risk management, analytics and using technology to drive business insights. He was also the Rockwell Automation executive sponsor at Amgen. Earlier in his career, Chris also held process, and production engineering roles in the pharmaceutical, chemical and nuclear industries. Chris holds a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from State University of New York at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, and an MBA from Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan.

Christopher Perceptions

Christopher Perceptions

christopher perceptions

Founder 

PerceptForm

Christopher Perceptions is an internationally known Web3 entrepreneur. Christopher is the founder of PerceptForm, an end-to-end ecosystem, and the co-founder of NoCodeClarity, a startup creating NoCode toolkits to aid in the frictionless development of Bitcoin decentralized applications through Stacks, a Layer 1 blockchain. Along with being a serial entrepreneur, Christopher is a highly sought-after crypto consultant and works with the Stacks Foundation as well as the Black Wall Street digital wallet, which is founded by Hill Harper and Najah Roberts.

Since 2016, Christopher has been active in the cryptocurrency industry and has brokered deals such as the Stacks Card, which is a crypto debit card launching in over 50 countries by the end of 2022. Christopher has a passion for empowering people through education and has aided thousands in understanding cryptocurrency. As an expert, Christopher has the unique ability to simplify the complexity surrounding blockchain technology. Christopher Perceptions is building in the cryptocurrency industry because he believes it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for fairness, innovation, and wealth creation through revolutionary strategies.

Jake Rohrer

Jake Rohrer

Jake rohrer

Manager of the Organizational Performance Team

Wipfli

Jake Rohrer is a Manager for Wipfli’s Organizational Performance team, specializing in Enterprise Technology and Process. Jake primarily works with manufacturing, financial institutions and non-profit businesses to rethink key workflows by implementing technology solutions. After several years of self-study on blockchain and cryptocurrency, Jake has become a thought leader for Wipfli clients on digital asset strategy. Jake’s is a member on MARN’s Innovation and Digital Transformation Committee as well as an author of numerous blogs and presentations across a broad spectrum of blockchain topics.  

Alec Shaw

Alec shaw

Alec Shaw

Partner

SperaxUSD

Alec is a partner at SperaxUSD, a startup that produces high yield savings accounts, powered by decentralized finance.

Prior to Sperax, Alec worked in the business school at Marquette after starting the Marquette University’s Blockchain Lab. Outside of crypto, Alec enjoys snowboarding, skateboarding and helping others take the leap into entrepreneurship.

Chuck Swoboda

Chuck swoboda

chuck swoboda

Innovator-in-Residence, Marquette University

Executive Chairman, Vast Therapeutics
Retired Chairman and CEO, Cree Inc.

Chuck serves on several company boards and is the bestselling author of The Innovator’s Spirit.

At Cree, Chuck helped lead the company from $6 million in revenue to over $1.6 billion as they started the LED Lighting Revolution that led to the obsolescence of traditional light bulbs. Chuck is a co-inventor on 25 patents covering LED and lighting related technology.

In 2010, Chuck was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the Carolinas. During his time as CEO, Cree was recognized as MIT Technology Review’s 50 Smartest Companies for 2014 and as one of Fast Company’s World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies in 2015.  


bREAKOUT SESSION Executives

Kenge Adams

Kenge Adams

Kenge Adams

Founder and CEO

Connect Business Consulting

Kenge Adams is the CEO and Founder of Connect Business Consulting. She has over 20 years of experience planning, managing, and implementing technology and community-based projects for Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and community-based organizations to maximize program sustainability, reach key outcomes, and build strong partnerships.

Kenge is an active community member and values building and maintaining relationships. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc and Tempo Milwaukee. She is a board member of Bublr Bikes, the Sherman Phoenix Foundation, and Woodland Schools. She is a life member of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. with over 16 years of membership and Executive Board leadership.

Kenge is married to Dr. Reginald Adams, and they have two children, Sabrina and Maxwell. She enjoys biking, yoga, and spending time with family and friends. "For me, leadership starts and ends with relationships."

Tim Baack

Tim Baack

Tim Baack

President and CEO

Pathfinders

Tim Baack MS, LPC is the President and CEO of Pathfinders, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization whose mission is Empowering Youth - Changing Lives. Pathfinders provides comprehensive services and support to youth ages 25 and under and their families who are experiencing homelessness, housing instability, and mental health and behavioral challenges resulting from complex trauma and exploitation. Tim has been with Pathfinders since 1988 and has worked in a variety of capacities prior to his appointment as President and CEO in 2013.

A strong advocate on behalf of marginalized youth and families – particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ young people - Tim serves on the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services, a statewide membership organization that promotes best practice standards and positive youth development methods on behalf of runaway and homeless youth serving agencies.  He also serves as a Board Member for Milwaukee County’s Continuum of Care, a broad coalition working to prevent and end homelessness in Milwaukee. Tim was previously a member of both the Wisconsin Youth Justice Advisory Council and the Wisconsin Anti-Human Trafficking Advisory Council.  He currently serves as an appointed Commissioner for the City of Milwaukee’s Community Collaborative Commission, whose work focuses on community-oriented policing reforms and reimaging public safety for all residents of Milwaukee. Tim is also one of four elected co-chairs of the community’s long-standing Shelter and Transitional Housing Task Force.

Additionally, Tim supports the work of United Way in his role as Co-Chair of Pride United and as a member of the Campaign Cabinet in the Nonprofit Division, as well as on United Way’s recently created Youth Mental Health Advisory Council. In 2012, Tim received national recognition by President Obama as one of thirteen Champions of Change for his advocacy work relative to youth and young adult homelessness and housing instability. 

Doug Barton

Doug Barton

Doug barton

Director

UW-Madison E-Business Consortium

Doug leads the UWEBC to implement strategies to achieve operational excellence and oversees the development of new and expanded ways to serve our members' evolving needs for talent and organizational capability development, including leveraging the synergies between UWEBC and other UW-Madison campus units.

With more than 30 years of experience, Doug brings a diverse background working with and leading mission-driven and values-rich companies, including senior leadership positions at UBIX.AI and IBM.

Doug has spoken at industry and IBM conferences around the globe and local venues on topics ranging from design thinking, entrepreneurship, disruptive technology and innovation.

Doug holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University.

John T. Bartucci

John T. Bartucci

John T. Bartucci

Vice President of Connected Products

The Master Lock Company

John Bartucci is an accomplished technology industry executive with 30+ years’ experience driving and delivering technology solutions all over the world. As the Vice President of Connected Products at The Master Lock Company John has been a servant leader relentlessly driving this now 101 year old manufacturing company into digital transformation with a series of successful electronic access control product launches over the past several years.

As a leader with deep roots in technology, John is passionate about connecting customer needs with innovative and intuitive technology solutions and is responsible for serving markets and industries including real estate, facilities management and operations, telecommunications and education institutions. Over his tenure at Master Lock John has instilled a cultural DNA of rapid customer first support and fail fast but succeed faster to create a nimble and highly responsive team. This leadership style encourages his team members to think big to develop elegant and innovative designs that delight customers.  

Prior to this role, John held engineering and product management positions at Motorola and 3Com, delivering global intelligent network services and enabling wireless network data solutions to global customers.

John earned an MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from The Kellogg School of Management – Northwestern University, a Master of Science degree in Computer Engineering from Walden University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from The Ohio State University.

Away from work, John is happiest hanging out with his wife and kids watching movies, weightlifting, reading and writing.

David Berka

David Berka

David Berka

Project Manager: Techquity & Resource Equity

United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

Dave Berka has served in various non-profit roles in Milwaukee since 2016. His experience lies primarily in building effective partnerships with donors and community organizations, conducting research and policy analysis, and designing and implementing efficient programs and initiatives that address the community’s most pressing needs.

Currently, Dave manages data and resource equity projects for United Way’s Community Impact division, as well as United Way’s Techquity initiative, which began in 2020 in response to emergency needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Techquity takes a collective impact approach to addressing the digital divide in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington counties. Techquity employs four main strategies: ensuring affordable access to broadband; securing reliable digital devices for community members and organizations; equipping the community with digital skills, literacy trainings, and vocational opportunities; and using the Techquity coalition’s collective voice to fight for the digital equity and inclusion of every member of the community.

Dave is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Duke University. He lives in Milwaukee County with his family.

Ryan Brooks

ryan brooks

ryan brooks

Co-Founder

Stack41

Ryan Brooks specializes in large-scale system design. With 30 years of experience in software, security & compliance, networks, and electrical engineering, he is currently involved in helping enterprise and large organizations scale their critical applications. As the co-founder of Stack41, his range of customers includes established Fortune 500 companies and innovative smaller organizations. Previously, Ryan has worked at Time Warner Telecom, UPS,  British Telecom, and several startups.

In 1994, Ryan co-founded Inc.net, a regional Internet service provider, which supplied Internet transit services to enterprises in the Midwest. Time Warner purchased the company and he designed a national footprint for their Internet services. After a successful IPO and further acquisition of GST Telecom, he has led product development and R&D in roles as Chief Scientist, CTO, and VP of Technology.

Experienced in hardware and software disciplines, Ryan brings a unique perspective, as his architectures and systems are often audited for compliance with SOC, HIPAA, PCI, and other GRC frameworks. He has worked with a diverse group of companies and is often called upon to “bridge-the-gap” between technical and sales.

Chytania Brown

chytania brown

chytania brown

Chief Executive Officer

Employ Milwaukee

Chytania Brown has over two decades of experience in criminal justice, workforce development, community development, policy, and advocacy. In 2020, she became the first woman to be appointed President and CEO of Employ Milwaukee, Inc.  Chytania oversees the administration of federal, state, and philanthropic funds and the creation of effective programs that ensure alignment between the skills demanded by a changing economy and those offered by the region’s labor force.

Bertina Ceccarelli

Bertina ceccarelli

bertina ceccarelli

Chief Executive Officer 

NPower

NPower, a national tech training organization, rooted in community, and on a mission to advance equity in the tech industry. She joined NPower in 2016 with a passion to disrupt the status quo and build a more inclusive workplace. Under her visionary leadership, NPower has grown from $6 million to a $23 million organization, doubling their staff and expanding their proven program to three new cities.  

Bertina’s commitment to helping young adults and military-connected individuals launch tech careers and break social and economic mobility barriers has led to her involvement in strategic alliance organizations including: Founding member TechPact; member, CEO Action; steering committee member, American’s Promise YES Project; as well as membership on Forbes Council and Concordia communities.  She was was named as one of the Tech Industry's Brightest Superstars by the US Black Engineer & IT magazine.

An engineer by training, Bertina has worked as a technology leader at Procter & Gamble and NBC before pivoting to the nonprofit sector. Growing up in a working-class family and the first to graduate from high school, she was drawn to a community that once supported her own educational endeavors. After a successful career in the corporate sector, Bertina chose to transition her skills to the nonprofit sector.  Bertina held senior leadership roles at United Way of New York City and the Wildlife Conservation Society where she was responsible for generating over $85 million annually in programmatic and unrestricted funds.   She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research and received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

She is an engaged storyteller, who leads with heart, committed to moving the mission of NPower to new heights.  She is the co-author, together with Susanne Tedrick, of the upcoming book, “Innovating for Diversity: Lessons from Top Companies that are Disrupting Old Practices to Achieve Inclusivity, Equity and Business Success” to be published by Wiley March 2023.

Cole Crews

Cole Crews

Cole Crews

Business Development Executive

UScellular

Cole Crews is a seasoned expert having spent nearly a decade working for Internet of Utilities  and now in the cellular industry serving utility clients.  While working in the utility space, Cole deployed the first utility private LTE network in the United States.  The main use case for the private LTE network was distribution automation.  Private cellular networks are now poised to become the enabler for utilities to deploy distribution automation, along with the many use cases they may need to deploy now and into the future.

Que El-Amin

Que El-Amin

Que El-Amin

Co-Founder, President

Young Enterprising Society, Scott Crawford, Inc.

Que El-Amin is a co-founder of Young Enterprising Society (YES) and president at Scott Crawford, Inc (SC).

YES has two primary initiatives, YES Blueprint and a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math program (STEAM). The STEAM program has educated over 4,000 students, exposing them to the latest in technology and entrepreneurship. Additionally, El-Amin’s role in YES Blueprint has led to over 84 new companies started, YES providing over a million dollars in grants and in-kind services to underrepresented founders and those founders going on to raise several million dollars and have millions in revenue. Operating since 2007, Scott Crawford, Inc. has constructed over 35 residential real estate transactions totaling over $80 million and providing several hundred units of affordable housing.

Que’s leadership at Scott Crawford, Inc. led to The Community Within The Corridor (TCWTC) which is the largest privately owned affordable housing development in the State of Wisconsin’s history. The $66M development includes 197 housing units, a 35,000 square feet Community Service Facility and 25,000 square feet of recreational space. The Community Service Facility will include early childhood education, small grocer, after school programming, laundromat and a creative collaborative workspace.

Que’s accomplishments include being a 2021 Milwaukee Executive of the Year, 2020 Milwaukee 40 Under 40, BizTimes Regional Spirit Award recipient, AACoC Innovation Award, Greater Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce Innovation Award, Secure Futures Money Coach and a presenter at various national conferences on Real Estate and STEM.

Que’s educational experience includes an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in Art and he completed his Master’s Degree in Geography with a concentration in Community Development from Chicago State University in May 2015.

Mr. El-Amin serves in a number of leadership capacities including a board member of the 30th Street Industrial Corridor. Additionally, Que is a member of the Milwaukee Tech Hub Alliance, Blacks in Tech, Building Owners & Managers Association-Wisconsin, John H. Scott Memorial Fund and Gamma Theta Epsilon Honor Society. Lastly, Mr. El-Amin served as the founder and President of Chicago State University Aquaponics Association

Rafat Elsharef

Rafat elsharef

rafat Elsharef

Faculty of IT-Security

Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC)

Rafat Elsharef has over 20 years of full time teaching experience in the areas of Networking and Cyber Security at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Dr. Elsharef developed and taught many courses such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Network Security, Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH), Risk Management, Digital and Mobile Forensics and Wireless Security. For the last four years, Dr. Elsharef offered summer camps on Cyber Security and Robotics for high school students at MATC.

Dr. Elsharef is also the Assistant Director of the UW-Milwaukee Industrial Assessment Center(IAC). The center is funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and offers free assessments on Energy and Cyber Security to companies in the state of Wisconsin. In addition, he previously lectured on Computer Networks and Cyber Security as part of the UW-Milwaukee Computer Science department.

Prior to MATC, Dr. Elsharef worked as a Network engineer at different organizations such as UW-Whitewater, UW-Madison, WiscNet, and at Metavante Corp as part of a team of engineers responsible for configuring and managing the network backbone for these organizations.

Dr. Elsharef serves on the Information Technology & Security Committee for the Wisconsin Section of American Water Works Association (WIAWWA). He has presented on the area of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure in many conferences such as High Impact Technology Exchange Conference (HI-TEC) and WIAWWA IT & Security Conference.

Dr. Elsharef holds a Ph.D. in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering with minor in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Areas of interest: Applying Cyber Security to Critical Infrastructure, Information Technology/Operational Technology (IT/OT), and Industry 4.0.

Sam Girard

Sam Girard

Sam girard

Vice President of Customer Success

Johnson Controls

Samuel A. Girard is the Vice President of Customer Success for Johnson Controls. He partners with the entire JCI organization to drive successful outcomes for all JCI customers. Responsible for accelerating adoption and growth of JCI Digital by demonstrating value and developing senior-level relationships within our broad customer base. Sam is a strategic partner with JCI customers and accountable for listening to their needs, evangelizing for those needs inside the organization and delivering exceptional customer experiences to make and keep happy customers for all of JCI’s offerings. He is the internal champion of the Digital portfolio and will orchestrate cross-functional efforts between marketing, sales, product and tech to deliver market leading products. Sam serves as an interface between JCI and JCI’s top customers. He also serves as the executive sponsor for JCI strategic clients and developing long term top-to-top relationships.

Sam spent over 20 years with IBM serving on the Global Business Services Leadership Team as a Senior Client Partner as well as numerous leadership roles. He was the Executive Sponsor for the Bee School which was an innovative accelerated learning approach for Senior Consultants. Sam also spent time in the Healthcare/Lifesciences, Distribution, and Industrial sectors over the course of his career. Spending time at the intersection of client service and talent development always accelerates growth.

Mr. Girard spent over 11 years in the United States Army Reserve retiring as a Captain. During his time in the reserves, Captain Girard held numerous leadership roles at the operational, Brigade and Command and General Staff levels of the Army Reserve. Captain Girard received the Draper Leadership Award in 1989. He is a graduate of the Armor School at Fort Knox.

Mr. Girard received his Executive MBA from Loyola University in Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Blanca Gonzales

Blanca Gonzales

Blanca gonzales

Executive Director

i.c.stars

Blanca Gonzales is the Executive Director for i.c.stars Milwaukee. Blanca has more than 20 years in Non-Profit Management, with 15 years in National Youth Organizations organizing intervention/prevention programs for the underrepresented communities of Greater Milwaukee Area. In her continuation to focus in the empowerment of suppressed areas, Blanca has joined the mission to provide resources, opportunities and community by developing leaders through a robust training program for underserved young adults. Blanca continues to serve in the i.c.stars mission to support racial equity and social justice work through education and career development programs and empower a new generation of tech stars, underserved young adults.

Art Hopkins

Art hopkins

Art hopkins

Consultant and Co-lead of Technology Officers Practice

Russell Reynolds Associates

Art Hopkins co-leads the firm's Technology Officers Practice and is a member of Board & CEO Advisory Partners, advising clients across industries on a range of leadership initiatives. He has extensive experience in CTIO, digital, data, CTO roles as well as a personal interest and focus on the changing role of the top tech executive. He has also been a co-leader of the firm's global Diversity and Inclusion Practice.

In addition to recent professional services searches for global executives at leading consulting firms, Art has recently completed CIO and technology executive searches for major players in the consumer, energy, food and tech spaces. Notably, he also recruited the first-ever chief inclusion officer for a well-known e-commerce company as well as the CEO of a national civil and human rights organization, and has been a thought leader on the topic of “belonging" as a key component of a holistic approach to DE&I.

Prior to joining Russell Reynolds Associates, Art was with Atlanta-based Macquarium, an experience design and strategy firm, most recently as CEO and earlier as president. There, he was responsible for leading the transformation of the firm from a regional interactive agency to an industry-leading design firm. Prior to this, he spent ten years with Blackwell Consulting Services as vice president of consulting, where his responsibilities included management of the consulting organization and leadership of key client initiatives. Earlier, he was with William James & Associates as a consultant, building and integrating custom software solutions for financial institutions. Art began his career as Supervisor of Participant Accounting at NBD Trust Co. of Illinois (now Chase Bank).

Art received his BA in finance from the University of Maryland, College Park. He is very active in the community and has a personal interest in matters related to education and workforce development. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for the Information Technology Senior Management Forum, the only national organization that exists to further the pipeline of Black tech executives, and the Board of Directors of Bain-Capital-backed Rural Sourcing Inc., Art has served on the Executive Board of Directors for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia's Commission for School Board Excellence, Junior Achievement of Georgia, and as the Board Chair of the WEB DuBois Society.

Angela Johnson

angela johnson

angela johnson

Chief Information Security Officer

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin

Angela Johnson is chief information security officer for Children’s Wisconsin. A tireless advocate for the better health and wellness of children, Angela works all levels of information systems to promote policies that support this goal. She has more than 17 years of experience in information systems, supply chain and financial services. Always focused on Children’s belief that kids deserve the best, Angela leads Children’s strategic efforts to improve security and infrastructure processes and securely implement new technology. She works in close partnership with all parts of the system to support innovation and collaboration while ensuring compliance with the strict regulatory environment governing the healthcare industry.

In her role as chief information security officer, Angela collaborates with other leaders to ensure infrastructure design and implementation meet security requirements. She also plays a role in planning, maintaining, securing, optimizing, expanding and protecting Children’s growing information technology infrastructure.

Angela brings a multi-disciplinary approach to leading and executing a risk-based enterprise information security, physical security, business continuity and infrastructure strategy and program, helping Children’s effectively meet the needs of the kids and families it serves.

Angela is a graduate of Marquette University where she earned her undergraduate degree. She also holds a MBA from Walden University. Angela is a member of the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee board, as well as president of the Midwest Cybersecurity Alliance. Prior to joining Children’s in 2017, Angela served as the director of information security at Robert W. Baird & Co in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Joan Johnson

Joan Johnson

Joan Johnson

Library Director

Milwaukee Public Library

Joan Johnson, Library Director, Milwaukee Public Library, took the helm in 2020 during a time of crisis and provided the stability and leadership needed to deliver recovery relief services, enhance connectivity and digital inclusion for the disenfranchised, and strengthen partnerships to help build resilient communities. In her prior role as Deputy, she was responsible for Public Services ensuring the provision of excellent customer service and access to resources for patrons across the city and throughout the state. She serves as design team lead for MPL’s new library branch and remodeling projects, resulting in four new mixed-use developments and one full renovation featuring new resources and technologies that support the library’s mission and vison. In the years prior, her interests in library technology instruction, geographic information systems, government publications and collective bargaining informed her career path rising through the ranks into various management posts at Seattle Public Library.

Nadiyah Johnson

Nadiyah Johnson

Nadiyah Johnson

Founder

Milky Way Tech Hub

Nadiyah Johnson graduated from Marquette University with a master’s in computational science and is currently pursuing a PHD with a focus on computer science and mental health. Her research is predominantly geared toward mobile Health (mHealth). Nadiyah’s research has granted her recognition at several conferences around the globe. She previously held a role at GE Healthcare as a technical product manager with a specialty in data science. Nadiyah’s passion for diversity in STEM led her to launch her company Jet Constellations, a local software company. It’s social impact arm functions to promote racial diversity in the tech industry through STEM education and entrepreneurship programming as well as building a nurturing ecosystem of diverse techies and entrepreneurs. As founder,she aims to uplift her community, including zip code 53206 (which incarcerates the most Black men in the nation), through education and tech investment, and later to hopefully roll out the model to other communities around America. She is currently realizing the vision that Milwaukee is the “ Milky Way Tech Hub” – a tech hub representative of Milwaukee’s diverse population.

Nadiyah is a recent Milwaukee Business Journal 40 under 40 honoree. She also serves as a professor at Marquette University. Nadiyah enjoys painting and educating youth about computer science in her free time. She currently sells her art in pop-up shops at local art fairs. When Nadiyah isn’t painting or working in the community she is spending quality time with her family..likely beating them in chess.

Personal twitter: @nadiyahjohnson

Company twitter: @themilkywaymke

Instagram: @Jetconstellations

TED Talk

Website: Milkywaytechhub.com of Jetconstellations.com

Chad Jones

Chad Jones

Chad Jones

Director of Software Engineering

Milwaukee Tool

Chad Jones is the Director of Software Engineering at Milwaukee Tool.  He oversees the data strategy on the products that Milwaukee Tool makes for professional construction users globally.  That data strategy starts in engineering while tools are being developed, continues through manufacturing, and ultimately out into the world to paint a complete picture of how tools are used which enables Milwaukee to provide cutting edge products to those professional construction users.  Previously, Chad led multiple development teams responsible for ONE-KEY, Milwaukee’s construction inventory management system, as well as traditional systems such as ERP, BI, CRM, CMS, and other custom-built solutions to enable internal company processes.

Dave Jones

dave Jones

dave Jones

Senior Marketing Manager

Broan-NuTone

Proven track record growing marketing teams, increasing revenue, and cultivating engagement. Hands-on experience with all aspects of marketing and communications including managing cross-functional teams, recruiting and hiring, and overseeing agency relationships.

Specialties: Brand Management, Marketing Communication, Content Marketing, Project Management, Public Relations, Multi-Media Advertising, Email Marketing, Social Media Strategy, Community Management, Staff Leadership

Dr. Thomas Kaczmarek

Dr. thomas kaczmarek

dr. thomas kaczmarek

Director of Center for Cyber Security Awareness and Cyber Defense

Marquette University

Since joining Marquette University in 2020, Dr. Thomas Kaczmarek has led initiatives in data analytics, online degree programs, and cybersecurity. He currently serves as the director of Marquette’s National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (designated by NSA and DHS) and the director of a professional M.S. degree program that ranks highly as an Online master’s program in information technology. Prior to joining Marquette he was an executive in General Motors with responsibilities in Manufacturing Engineering and Information Technology. Prior to GM he managed research and development in AI for Inference Corp, the University of Southern California, and DARPA.

Kisha Keeney

Kisha Keeney

Kisha Keeny

Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion

Northwestern Mutual

Kisha Keeney is Senior Director, Diversity and Inclusion, at Northwestern Mutual, a Fortune 100 company.

She develops and implements strategy that advances Northwestern Mutual’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals. This includes consultation with functional areas across the company; identification, creation and expansion of community partnerships; alignment of enterprise communications/marketing efforts; creation and facilitation of education within the organization. She also oversees the organization’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), focusing on growth, collaboration and alignment to corporate diversity and inclusion strategy as well as organizational business strategy. In 2021, seven of the organization’s 8 ERGs earned recognition as a “Top 25” ERG in the nation Last year Kisha was selected and completed the McKinsey Black Leadership Academy, as part of Northwestern Mutual’s cohort. Previously she was involved in Northwestern Mutual’s inaugural Multicultural Leadership Development Program which allowed her to acquire a new mentor, reverse mentor a senior leader, and consult/present to the Corporate Diversity & Inclusion Council. In prior roles with Northwestern Mutual, Kisha concepted and delivered marketing programs and sponsorships that connected clients and candidates with Northwestern Mutual’s field team. She also managed sponsorships such as those with College Football Playoffs and the Rose Bowl, and coordinated national partnerships and events including the Essence Path to Power, the Hispanic Wealth Project, the Out & Equal and National Black MBA Conferences.

Before joining Northwestern Mutual, Kisha was a consultant at The Kaleidoscope Group, a full-service diversity and inclusion consulting firm. At the Kaleidoscope Group, she provided strategic and creative oversight for inclusion initiatives including events, conferences, and webinars. She also developed and executed assessment tools to evaluate organizational strengths and opportunities in diversity and inclusion. Outside of work, Kisha serves the community as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., loves to improve her culinary skills, travel the world, and advance her small women and black owned experiential business with her partners.

Kisha earned a Bachelor of Arts in broadcast journalism from Ball State University.

Rashi Khosla

Rashi Khosla

rashi khosla

Founder and CEO

MARS Solutions Group

Rashi Arora Khosla is Founder and CEO of MARS Solutions Group, the diverse IT consulting company known for consistently connecting the ideal blend of technical skills and personality fit with organizational culture, management style, and team dynamics. In 2020, Rashi launched MARS Returnship, an on-ramp for professionals looking to restart their careers in technology following a gap in employment. The program provides on-the-job training, mentorship, and a partnership approach to prepare cohort members to successfully rejoin the workforce. MARS Returnship looks to provide high-caliber, technical talent to employers that value gender diversity and inclusion. The exceptional graduates of the program and partner companies enjoy a customized experience to meet the unique technical and interpersonal needs of all involved. Under Rashi’s leadership, MARS has earned numerous awards and accolades, including spots on the Inc 5000 list, the Future 50 list, and several CIO review recognitions. Rashi was also named the Enterprising Women of the year in 2017, and is a Milwaukee Business Journal 2022 Women of Influence award recipient. Rashi is dedicated to serving the greater Milwaukee area and working towards building the local tech talent, and was elected to serve on the board of directors for the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition. She has special philanthropic interests in helping kids with disabilities and mentoring women in the STEM field, and supports numerous organizations involved in these causes. As such, Rashi serves on the board of Ronald McDonald House of Charities Eastern Wisconsin as well as on the HR committee for this organization. Rashi also serves on Social Committee for I.C. Stars in Milwaukee, that is an immersive technology workforce training and placement program for promising young adults.

Joe Manone

Joe manone

joe manone

President and CEO

Rite-Hite Products Corporation

Throughout his career, Joe has held several positions within the Rite-Hite organization including sales and marketing leadership, product development, strategy liaison for the business in China along with starting up Rite-Hite Digital Solutions. Joe’s passion is ‘’connecting the dots’’ through technology and product strategy for short-term and long-term growth. He believes that the key to long term success is developing the right people and providing excellent career opportunities, all while having a bit of FUN! Joe is a graduate of Arizona State University (B.S., Finance) and currently finishing his MBA at Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management. In his spare time Joe enjoys hockey, golf and the beach.

Jody McDonough

Jody mcdonough

jody mcdonough

Chief Information Officer

Sub-Zero Group, Inc.

Jody McDonough is CIO for global manufacturer of luxury appliances SubZero/Wolf/Cove. He is responsible for the organization’s traditional IT resources along with the IoT and Analytics functions with direct product responsibilities.

Prior to his current role, he was responsible for a global insurer’s Strategy, Architecture and Innovation group implementing and operationalizing global analytics operations supporting business objectives. He has over 28 years in various IT roles and entrepreneurial developments across multiple industries.

Leana Nakielski

Leana Nakielski

Leana Nakielski

Community and Social Impact Investment Director

American Family Insurance

After 20 years in the non-profit sector, Leana now leads a team that partners in community to close equity gaps and build deep, diverse talent pipelines. These partnerships strengthen American Family’s inclusive culture, foster a diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem, and contribute to strengthening Milwaukee’s local, competitive workforce. She obtained her B.S. degree and Executive MBA from UW-Madison and a certificate from the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University.  

Leana is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, TEMPO, Professional Dimensions, the HOAN Group, and the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee. She is involved in community as a member of the Sherman Phoenix Foundation and UW Credit Union, helping ensure financial freedom and prosperity for All.

Leana has been recognized and featured for her community service in Milwaukee Magazine as a “Visionary Leader” in the 2017 issue of Faces of Milwaukee, as a “Rising Leader” by the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee in 2018, as one of Madison 365 “Si Se Puede 2019 Wisconsin’s 34 Most Powerful Latinos,” featured in BizTimes “The Interview” in 2019, a Milwaukee Business Journal “40 Under 40” award in 2020 as well as being recognized as a “Young Professional Powerbroker” by the same publication in 2021.  

She has co-authored over two dozen articles in Nature’s Pathways magazine and is a contributing author to “I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin.” Throughout her career and in her personal and professional life, Leana has committed to building alliances with other agents of social change to work towards a more equitable existence and improved quality of life for traditionally marginalized peoples. Leana is the proud mother of three children and enjoys dancing, traveling, reading, playing in parks, cultural amenities, and embraces the philosophy and call to action to “think globally, act locally.”

Jon Ogden

Jon Ogden

JOn Ogden

Assistant Director Systems Software Engineering

Northwestern Mutual

Jon Ogden is a Cloud leader at Northwestern Mutual and is responsible for the company’s engineering and operations of all container platforms, primarily Kubernetes.  These platforms span both cloud and on-premises data centers.  He and his team are focused on providing a stable, highly resilient, and cost-effective platform that enables application development teams to achieve their business objectives and provide our clients, financial reps, and employees with their digital experiences. 

Over his 15-year career, Jon has held various IT leadership and technical positions spanning software development and support, performance testing and engineering, as well as infrastructure, and operations. Before joining Northwestern Mutual, he worked with a medical records start-up company in Toledo, OH.

Jon is passionate about technology and automation (“work hard once”). He strives to build a culture of inclusiveness and leads with a “servant leadership” style that helps organizations achieve great things. He loves helping people grow both personally and professionally. 

Jon and his wife Nicole live in New Berlin, a suburb of Milwaukee. He loves time spent with his two daughters. He enjoys DIY home projects, gaming, fishing, and many other outdoor activities in his free time.

Eli Rivera & Ruben Gaona

Eli Rivera & Ruben Gaona

Eli Rivera & Ruben Gaona

Co-Founders

The Way Out

The Way Out co-founders, Eli Rivera and Ruben Gaona met In the Fall of 2019 after an anti-recidivism panel discussion hosted by American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and gBETA Social Impact. They were drawn to the event because the topic was extremely near and dear to their hearts… like the panelist on stage, both had experienced being incarcerated and the subsequent challenges of finding a job as a Person of Color with a felony conviction. Shortly after the 2019 event, Ruben and Eli decided to follow their dream of creating a comprehensive anti-bias employment platform that would align employers with qualified justice impacted job seekers in their industry, while also providing additional services and technologies to help them integrate into their new roles successfully. They understood that not only do justice impacted job seekers need jobs, but they also need a strong support network at their side. They recognized how challenging it can be for reentry service providers to meet the full breadth of this populations' needs and wanted to help.

In the Summer of 2020, they began their justice tech journey when they were accepted into gener8tor’s inaugural gALPHA Social Impact Program, where they began working on their platform. In October of that year they entered the gBETA Social Impact Pre-accelerator and by the end of 2020 launched their anti-bias employment platform. In the Spring of 2021, they launched the My Way Out mobile support app and by the end of 2021 they matched 56 justice-impacted individuals with over 180 supportive services. Of the 27 individuals utilizing My Way Out for employment purposes, 25 are still employed.

The Way Out has recently partnered with Nadiyah Johnson and Milky Way Tech Hub to launch Bridging the Tech Gap for Returning Citizens (BTGRC). BTGRC is designed to welcome back to our community recently released (or soon to be released) justice impacted individuals in Milwaukee and help them navigate today's technology ecosystem.

With the ongoing support of American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and the MacArthur Foundation, Eli and Ruben expect to serve between 200-300 justice-impacted individuals this year, triple their 2021 direct-hire revenue and raise funds to launch their new platform nationally.

Dr. Kristina Ropella

Dr. kristina ropella

Dr. Kristina Ropella

Opus Dean and Professor, Opus College of Engineering

Marquette University

Dr. Kristina (Kris) Ropella is Opus Dean of the Opus College of Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering .  She joined the biomedical engineering faculty at Marquette in 1990 and served as the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering from 2004 to 2013, when she was named the executive associate dean. Ropella assumed the permanent role of Opus Dean in 2015. In this leadership role, Ropella provides vision and leads strategic planning and implementation, creation of academic programs, engagement with industry, government and other academic institutions, fundraising, and community outreach.

Ropella’s research expertise is in biosignal processing and medical imaging for diagnostic medical devices.  She led the creation of innovative educational programs, including the Joint Functional Imaging Ph.D. program with MCW, a biocomputer engineering major at Marquette, a GAANN Graduate Fellowship Program in Functional Imaging, and the Marquette and MCW Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. She is founder and faculty director of Excellence in Leadership (E-Lead), a three-year curricular innovation leadership development program for undergraduate students across the disciplines at Marquette.

Ropella was named the Wisconsin U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support for Education (2007). She is a past recipient of the Marquette’s Robert and Mary Gettel Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence (2002).  Ropella received the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 (2000) and Women of Influence (2008) awards; STEM Forward’s Engineer of the Year award (2016); and the Kern Family Foundation’s Outstanding Dean award (2016).

Ropella is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). She has served on the board of directors for AIMBE, the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), and the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Board of Directors at Milwaukee’s St. Augustine Prep, the Governance Board for Milwaukee Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, the Board of Directors for the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee (HPGM), and advisory boards for the George Washington University Biomedical Engineering Department, the PATHS-UP ERC at Texas A&M, and the MKE Fellows.

Ropella earned her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Marquette University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University.

James Rose

James Rose

James Rose

Sr. Manager of Private Cellular Networks

UScellular

James is a wireless veteran of over 10 years. James is currently responsible for driving innovation and educating businesses on Private Networks and IoT solutions. Prior to joining U.S. Cellular in 2015, James held a variety of leadership, project management, and business sales positions with various industry leading organizations.  

Anique N. Ruiz

Anique N. Ruiz

Anique N. Ruiz, MA, JD

WiscAMP STEM-Inspire Program Manager

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

Anique serves as the WiscAMP STEM-Inspire Program Manager at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee (UWM). This program provides faculty mentoring, peer support and research opportunities for underrepresented minority students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, funded by the National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliance on Minority Participation (LSAMP) grant, the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the American Family Insurance Dream Fund. Anique has presented at various state and national conferences on the topic of diversity and inclusion and is a staunch champion of student success in STEM.

Laura Schmidt

Laura schmidt

Laura schmidt

Chief Talent Development Officer

Rockwell Automation

Laura Schmidt, Chief Talent Development Officer of the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, is responsible for the strategic direction and prioritization of initiatives impacting K-20 education, reskilling and upskilling to support Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition objectives. Her work includes partnering with existing talent development programs to accelerate and build capacity for their efforts and developing new programs that contribute to a strong tech talent pipeline that is inclusive and representative of our community.

Susanne Tedrick

Susanne Tedrick

susanne tedrick

Azure Technical Trainer

Microsoft Corporation

Susanne is a cloud computing specialist for a Fortune 500 technology company. In her work, Susanne helps her clients address business and technical challenges surrounding cloud adoption, migration, and cost optimization.

Susanne is fiercely committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the tech industry. Susanne is the author of the critically acclaimed Women of Color in Tech: A Blueprint for Inspiring and Mentoring the Next Generation of Technology Innovators and co-author of the upcoming book, Innovating for Diversity: Lessons from Top Companies that are Disrupting Old Practices to Achieve Inclusivity, Equity and Business Success with NPower CEO Bertina Ceccarelli. Susanne performs community service work for several non-profits, including serving as Chair of the Advancing Tech Talent and Diversity Executive Council for the global IT professional organization CompTIA and coalition member for NPower's Command Shift initiative. Susanne is also the host of Wiley’s Diversity in Tech webinar series.

Susanne is the winner of CompTIA's 2020 Diversity Technology Leader Spotlight Award, for her advocacy for increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in the tech industry.  

Mike Troutman

Mike Troutman

mike troutman

Chief Information Officer

Zurn Water Solutions

Since joining Zurn Water Solutions, formerly Rexnord Corporation, Mike has held leadership positions in Information Technology, Customer Care, and (IIoT) Connected Products.  Mike has led initiatives to modernize global systems/processes, improve the customer experience, and increase sales efficiency.  Mike has also led numerous digital transformations supporting digital marketing, eCommerce, connected products, and advanced analytics.

Before joining the organization in 2007, he was with AT&T, Lucent, and Agere Systems in various senior information technology positions implementing global industry leading solutions and processes.

Mike has a Master’s degree in Management from Purdue University and a bachelor’s degree in Computer & Information Science from the University of Delaware.

LaShawndra Vernon

LaShawndra Vernon

LaShawndra Vernon

Executive Director

Artists Working in Education Inc.

LaShawndra Vernon is a creative entrepreneur. Her work is focused on developing programs with an equity lens. LaShawndra is a mediator with practical experience translating United Nations treaties and sustainability goals to local policy. She serves as a creative convener building consensus towards improving community conditions. LaShawndra is a Collective Impact practitioner and credits her community building work to studying Asset Based Community Development early in her career. She has an extensive background in public health research, and community engagement. LaShawndra is a proud Public Allies Milwaukee Alum, class of 2001. LaShawndra is also a performing artist practicing under the name Firey Phoenix.

LaShawndra is appointed to the Cultural Artistic & Musical Programming Advisory Council (CAMPAC) of Milwaukee County and the Bronzeville Advisory Committee (BAC) of the city of Milwaukee.

LaShawndra has a BS in Criminal Justice and Human Services from Springfield College and an MA in Public Service and Dispute Resolution from Marquette University.

Joseph Werner

Joseph werner

joseph werner

Project Operations

BlocPower

Joseph works on the Project Operations Team at BlocPower. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of BlocPower’s clean energy and Wi-Fi projects and helps manageBlocPower’s strategic partnerships. He is currently based in Los Angeles, where he also oversees BlocPower’s work in California. Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Joseph earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science & Sustainability from The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He has spent the entirety of his career working in cleantech at the intersection of energy efficiency and renewable generation and real estate. Prior to joining BlocPower, Joseph worked in utility consulting at Waypoint Energy and sold efficiency and renewable solutions directly to commercial buildings at Carbon Lighthouse.

Bruce Wisnefske

Bruce Wisnefske

bruce wisnefske

Director of Advanced Manufacturing Operations

Sargento Foods

Wisnefske been at Sargento for 16 years and has over 28 years of experience in the food industry.  He received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from UW – Madison and MBA from Marquette University. In recent years, his focus has been on Manufacturing 4.0 initiatives, enterprise manufacturing and maintenance systems, along with Mfr 4.0 Education partnerships.

Stacy Zaja

Stacy Zaja

stacy zaja

Lead Program Manager - Technology Community Outreach

Northwestern Mutual

Stacy Zaja is Lead Program Manager – Technology Community Outreach at Northwestern Mutual. She joined the company in April 2020 to lead the company's K-12 Tech Outreach strategy and portfolio of programs. Her leadership of the company’s hi, Tech program focuses on developing meaningful experiences while layering in the importance of mentors and role models for students that are more underrepresented in tech careers, our girls and students of color. Most recently, Stacy has expanded her responsibilities to include supporting the company’s Tech for Good initiative, Milwaukee Tech Ecosystem partnerships and leading programs and partnerships to assist in establishing the company’s tech presence in New York City.

Stacy brings 10+ years of experience developing and implementing STEM programs and partnerships across the Greater Milwaukee region and globally through leadership roles that she held at Rockwell Automation and at Time Warner Cable.  Through this work she has partnered with national non-profit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology); in addition to Milwaukee-based partnerships with Milwaukee Public Schools, Sharp Literacy and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.  

Stacy serves on several STEM and Talent development committees in Milwaukee. She holds a bachelor’s degree from UW-Eau Claire in Elementary and Learning Disabilities Education.  She lives in Greendale, Wisconsin with her husband Greg, 15-year old daughter, Tess and their dog, Stella.


Pitch competition judges

Kathleen Gallagher

Kathleen Gallagher

Kathleen Gallagher

Executive Director

Milwaukee Institute

Kathleen is Executive Director of the Milwaukee Institute, a non-profit that works to improve the Great Lakes region’s technological and entrepreneurial landscape. She’s a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and hosts “How Did You Do That,” a segment/podcast that airs on WUWM, the Milwaukee NPR affiliate, and explores how and why noteworthy Midwestern entrepreneurs succeeded. Kathleen is Executive in Residence for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Investment Certificate Management Program and serves on the Starting Block Madison and Midwest Research University Network (MRUN) boards of directors. Previously the technology and investments reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kathleen won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for co-authoring a series about how Wisconsin doctors for the first time in history sequenced all of the genes of a young boy with a mysterious disease to diagnose and cure his illness. Kathleen and her co-author wrote a book based on the series called "One in a Billion: The Story of Nic Volker and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine." Before joining the Journal Sentinel, Kathleen was a Communications Consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and taught business writing at the American Bankers Association. She has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a graduate degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Daniel Gawronski

Daniel Gawronski

daniel gawronski

Partner

Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

Dan solves legal and business problems for Venture Best clients throughout their lifecycles, from helping entrepreneurs refine early-but-visionary ideas into fundable business plans to executing successful exit transactions. He assists with entity formation and governance, as well as debt, equity, and other financing strategies, strategic transactions, and general corporate legal matters. Dan represents clients of all sizes and across a number of different industries, and brings a broad range of experience to his legal practice, including commercial contracting, licensing arrangements, venture capital and angel financing, and mergers & acquisitions. Venture Best is the focus of Dan’s practice, and he prides himself on offering entrepreneurs at all stages of development legal counsel that reflects each client’s business realities.

Keaton Nankivil

Keaton Nankivil

keaton nankivil

Principal

Alumni Ventures

Keaton has spent his career focused on high-level teamwork. A proud Wisconsin Basketball alumnus, he started his career playing professional basketball for teams across Europe, including stops in Germany, Spain, Latvia and Italy. Since returning from Europe he has shifted his career focus to venture investing. He has worked with both institutional and corporate venture teams and completed his MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship. He now works with Alumni Ventures, one of the most active VC firms in the world, with a primary emphasis on finding and supporting startups with team connections to the UW entrepreneurial ecosystem. He holds a BS in kinesiology from UW-Madison and an MBA from the Nicholas Center for Corporate Finance and Investment Banking from the Wisconsin School of Business.

Dawn Nguyen

dawn nguyen

dawn nguyen

Associate

Hyde Park Venture Partners

Dawn is currently an Associate at Hyde Park Venture Partners, investing in early stage tech startups in the US midwest and Toronto. Her early career was in tech consulting with IBM building AI and analytics solutions before transitioning to startups. She has built and led customer success and implementation services teams at startups from early stage to IPO.

Darrin Vohs

Darrin Vohs

darrin vohs

Global Vice President Information Officer (CIO)

Molson Coors Brewing Company

Darrin leads the creation and implementation of Molson Coors’ information technology strategy, including a balanced pursuit of business, information, cyber security, and technical solutions.

Mr. Vohs has been with the company for 27 years and has served in a variety of IT roles including the Regional CIO for Molson Coors Europe and as Vice President of IT Architecture.

Darrin is a member of the Technology United CIO Advisory board, a donor network of the Milwaukee and Waukesha county United Way. On this board he makes a difference in our community through events, volunteerism, and advocacy focused on local students interested in technology. Mr. Vohs is a member of the Gartner Research board for Global CIOs. The Gartner Research Board works with the most senior executives in the world’s largest and most complex organizations to develop the insights required to achieve lasting, positive transformation.

Prior to Molson Coors, Darrin worked at EDS and has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering Technology from Colorado State University, Pueblo.

About Molson Coors: For more than two centuries Molson Coors has been brewing beverages that unite people for all of life’s moments. From Coors Light, Miller Lite, Molson Canadian, Carling and Staropramen, to Coors Banquet, Blue Moon Belgian White, Saint Archer Gold, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Creemore Springs and more. Molson Coors produces some of the most beloved and iconic beer brands ever made. While the company’s history is rooted in beer, Molson Coors offers a modern portfolio that expands beyond the beer aisle with sparkling cocktails, hard coffee, canned wine, kombucha, cider and more.

Molson Coors Beverage Company is a publicly traded company that operates through Molson Coors North America and Molson Coors Europe, and is traded on the New York and Canadian Stock Exchange (TAP). The company’s commitment to raising industry standards and leaving a positive imprint on our employees, consumers, communities, and the environment is reflected in Our Beer Print and our 2025 sustainability targets.

Robert Wynn

Robert Wynn

Robert Wynn

Founder and President

CLIMB USA Inc.

Robert Wynn’s career spans four decades of leadership, advocacy, and innovation in the arena of economic development and empowerment of underserved communities. Along the way, Mr. Wynn has founded and led a variety of capacity building enterprises such as UEDA (Urban Economic Development Association), Asset Builders of America Inc., Land Rich, Akamai LLC and ProSquared LLC.

Currently Mr. Wynn is the founder and president of CLIMB USA Inc. CLIMB is an acronym for “Communities Learning to Invest and Mobilize for Business”. The nonprofit organization promotes intensive investment education and facilitates wealth creation through investment clubs. Prior to opening his own businesses, Mr. Wynn was the Financial Education Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. In that capacity, Mr. Wynn co-created a number of ground-breaking financial education programs including the statewide network of Money Conferences, the Millionaires Clubs®, the Finance and Investment Challenge Bowl® and the Intelligent Arts Showcase®. Mr. Wynn also produced the first ever “Governor’s Summit on Venture Capital” which helped to enhance the private equity infrastructure in Wisconsin.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Wynn served as the Director of Minority Business Development at the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, WEDC’s predecessor agency. While at Commerce, Mr. Wynn developed the policy and legislative framework which established the Early Planning Grant and Minority Business Development Funds. These novel sources of capital, which included multiple revolving loan funds, were conceptualized and created through the efforts of Mr. Wynn with the support of key legislators and the governor. During the fifteen year life of the program, the Minority Business Development Fund provided ten million dollars in direct loans and leveraged an additional seventy million dollars for the benefit of hundreds of Wisconsin-based minority-owned firms while impacting more than 2800 jobs. In addition, Mr. Wynn expanded the scope and format of Marketplace during his tenure at Commerce, evolving it into a showcase event which engages the governor’s office, private sector companies and other collaborators within the MWBE ecosystem.

Mr. Wynn earned his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina where he was a Morehead Scholar, and he earned his law degree from the University of Michigan. He is a former board member of Better Investing, and a former member of the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Advisory Council. And he currently serves on the board of directors of American Players Theater. Robert Wynn is the recipient of numerous distinguished service awards. Among them, he was the 1990 U.S. Small Business Administration’s Minority Advocate of the Year, and he received Better Investing’s George Nicholson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019