The Gen Y Series: Angela Damiani

From passion project to CEO and Co-Founder of NEWaukee, Angela Damiani and friends co-founded a movement fresh out of college that changes the way people connect and empowers people to make the most of the city they live in - Milwaukee. As CEO of this social architecture firm, Angela is driven to help people find their place and take charge to make their city the best it can be. Put simply, social architecture is a way of consciously designing an environment to encourage a range of social behaviour to achieve an ultimate goal. In this case, it's making Milwaukee an awesome place to live.  

How did the idea for NEWaukee come about?
NEWaukee was founded in 2009, by a group of friends fresh out college and brand new to Milwaukee. Those kids quickly realized that there had to be a way to socialize and explore the city with their peers that did not entail hauling a stack of business cards to a stuffy networking event. And they also believed in building genuine, long-lasting relationships – people need to meet on a common ground, doing something that they truly love together.

Gathering a gaggle of friends together, the founders challenged each original member with the task of bringing ten of their friends to the first NEWaukee event. From that point, the group expanded rapidly as Milwaukee whippersnappers found an unconventional way to travel throughout the city, break out of their comfort zones and meet other like-minded people.

The group started with biweekly meet ups called Socials that changed locations and always included live, local music and sense of frivolity. Due to the public’s great reception of the concept, NEWaukee expanded its programming and offerings to include arts, culture, sports, adventures, large-scale festivals and intimate networking opportunities.

Not long after the programming began to expand and members of NEWaukee explored the city – Milwaukee’s accessibility and all-is-possible tendencies inspired folks to leave a lasting mark on the place they called home.

Sometimes that mark would be a work of public art, a temporary exhibition, or turning an old vacant lot into a destination.  Sometimes the mark was longer lasting – like advocating for sustainable artist funding, new public policies, and issues that affect members’ day-to-day lives.

Through NEWaukee, people find a sense of place and a charge to take action to make Milwaukee the best city it can possibly be.

What persuaded you to quit your job and make it a reality?
This passion project really just overtook my whole life. I couldn’t sleep, eat or breathe without thinking about NEWaukee. Quitting my job was the easy part, finding a way to turn hundreds of free events and a free membership into a life-sustaining enterprise was the hard part.

How did you overcome the fear of failure?
I always just keep going. Even in the darkest moments, when I think we’ve reached the farthest we can go, I find deep within myself there is more capacity than I previously imagined possible. And there’s always laughter. You can laugh yourself through any situation.

How did you fund the idea?
We operate as a social enterprise. So are a for-profit company, which offers engagement services to our clients who have consumer or employer branding needs. But we promise our clients that we will reinvest our profits every year into the creation of public events, parks and works of art without philanthropic or taxpayer support.

What excites you most about social architecture?
It’s a brand new field of study that allows people’s voices to be heard and their ideas made actionable.

What’s the big dream for Newaukee and for you?
To reverse the migration of talent back into the state of Wisconsin. 

How will you get there?
All of the projects we work on for our clients have an internal focus that addresses their engagement needs, but also has a public facing component which makes Wisconsin a more attractive place for anyone to work, live and play.

What advice would you give to people who might want to start a similar movement?
Honestly, just start doing it. The only thing that is holding you back is you.

What keeps you up at night?
I worry about the major industries in our state such as manufacturing. I worry that the formulaic way need to operate to produce whatever it is they make is not flexible to adapt to the growing new workforce trends. I worry that many of our small towns are dependant on manufacturers that if they are unable to succeed will collapse whole communities.  

One thing you wish you had learnt five years ago?
You don’t need a 5-year plan. Life is bigger and grander than anything you can imagine.

What have been your biggest challenges to date (in your career and personally) and how have you dealt with them?
We created a new industry in one of the most conservative places in the country. Wisconsin folks do not warm to change easily and our mission is the change the way people connect. It’s been a challenge to establish ourselves and to move forward, but it’s been worth every second!

I can’t get enough of…THE NEWS! I binge on the news multiple times a day.
My favourite place to travel to is…Italy!
Best book I’ve ever read…Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsh

Head over to Facebook and Instagram to see more from Angela and NEWaukee.