Monetize That: Jet Constellations CEO Focuses On Moving Milwaukee Away From Its Bleak Racial Past

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Nadiyah Johnson, CEO of Jet Constellations, is developing software and an ecosystem to support Milwaukee’s Black and brown entrepreneurial tech community. Photo provided

Black people in cities across the U.S. think they have it bad in terms of equity and justice. Looking at it through the lens of data and not emotion, Milwaukee is about as bad as it gets.

The largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee holds the No. 2 spot on The Worst Cities For Black Americans list, according to a 24/7 Wall St. report on socioeconomic disparities.

Milwaukee has the most incarcerated Black men in the U.S. The state’s racial disparity in its prison population is increasing to its highest numbers, according to the State Bar of Wisconsin. Milwaukee is also known as a place where the household income for Black people is 42.5 percent of the white median household income. While the country’s unemployment rate for Blacks has been between 6-to-7 percent, in Milwaukee it has been around 16 percent.

The statistics make Nadiyah Johnson’s work inspiring. As CEO of Jet Constellations, she’s spearheading a movement to change the trajectory and ecosystem for Milwaukee’s Black tech community. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Johnson is on a mission to take the city from being known for its poverty to helping brand it the Milky Way — a place where she hopes to one day see the most Black millionaires in the country.

We’re actively working to brand Milwaukee as the Milky Way tech hub, much like how California folks hear Silicon Valley … a city where Black and brown people want to go because they know they will thrive. They will know there are venture capitalists that will see their value and be willing to invest.

Nadiyah Johnson, CEO of Jet Constellations, is developing software and an ecosystem to support Milwaukee’s Black and brown entrepreneurial tech community.

Jet Constellations is a for-profit software company providing tech solutions in the medical, financial, and socially responsible industries. A Marquette University graduate, Johnson is not only developing software but also a strong ecosystem to support the Black and brown entrepreneurial tech community.

Jet Constellations launched its Milky Way Tech Hub initiative, which works to transform Milwaukee into the most inclusive tech hub in the country. The goal is to represent the city’s diverse population through community workshops, panels, talks, hackathons, and design thinking sessions. Through monthly events with the community and partnerships with organizations like Northwestern Mutual, Jet Constellations is focused on creating a positive impact on a city with a bleak racial past.

Johnson spoke with Moguldom about how attending a non-diverse startup week event motivated her to launch a solution to fix and empower the Black tech and STEM community.

Unfortunately, when people hear the name Milwaukee, they think of 53206 zip code, which is the zip code that incarcerates the most Black men in the nation, and that’s a terrible brand for the city.

Nadiyah Johnson, CEO of Jet Constellations, is developing software and an ecosystem to support Milwaukee’s Black and brown entrepreneurial tech community.

Moguldom: Why did you start Jet Constellations?

Nadiyah Johnson: In 2017, my father and I wanted to check out the local tech scene. We learned about Startup Milwaukee Week. By that time, it was coming to an end and we decided to go to the very last event. When we showed up, there were literally no Black or brown people. We were really frustrated. A week later, I filed my paperwork for Jet Constellations to fill that gap of a lack of representation within STEM and technology communities. I decided we could become the software solution provider for minority founders. A year later, we ended up spearheading the inaugural diversity track for Startup Milwaukee Week. It just shows you can make a change in your city. We’re very proud of that. So far, we’ve made a lot of traction and we’re continually building.

Moguldom: Where did the name Jet Constellations come from?

Nadiyah Johnson: I have always been really fascinated with space. It just reminds me that we’re all in this together. It’s something I want to bring to the culture of my company. We’re all about doing what is to better our society, our community, and to be inclusive. The Jet is for the pace we’re moving. We’re moving and launching things quickly. It was also another way to say “Black”, which is really important to me because I am definitely an advocate for my people. So that’s why I chose the name Jet Constellations because we’re bringing together different startup companies led by Black and brown founders to form something great.

Moguldom: Who are you partnering with to grow the initiative in the area?

Nadiyah Johnson:  A lot of the efforts we’ve been able to tackle within the last year have been due to the exposure we’ve gotten in the community and collaborating with large partners like Northwestern Mutual and Startup Milwaukee Week. Different companies within the city as well because they understand the importance of addressing diversity issues in the tech and startup space. They have become great partners to help with consulting and bringing knowledge to our startups. They have been happy to help and glad to see that there are folks putting down the foundation to bring about change.

Moguldom: Milwaukee has a negative connotation for the success of Blacks. How do you think it is affecting activities for growth for Black tech founders?

Nadiyah Johnson: One of our service offerings — we are a for-profit company — is The Milky Way Initiative. It focuses on three main things:

  • Promoting STEM education in the inner city.
  • Providing software solutions to help encourage entrepreneurship by being a local tech startup incubator in the city, which is extremely exciting as we are already seeing the impact that we’re making.
  • Creating an ecosystem of techies and entrepreneurs that mirror Milwaukee’s diverse population.

It’s so important for me, someone from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to be able to help create a narrative that best reflects the potential of Milwaukee.

Nadiyah Johnson, CEO of Jet Constellations, is developing software and an ecosystem to support Milwaukee’s Black and brown entrepreneurial tech community.

It’s so important for me, someone from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to be able to help create a narrative that best reflects the potential of Milwaukee. Unfortunately, when people hear the name Milwaukee, they think of 53206 zip code, which is the zip code that incarcerates the most Black men in the nation, and that’s a terrible brand for the city. We’re actively working to brand Milwaukee as the Milky Way tech hub. Much like how California folks hear Silicon Valley. I’m branding Milwaukee into the Milky Way Tech Hub so it can be as the most inclusive tech hub in the nation — a city where Black and brown people want to go to the Milky Way because they know they will thrive. They will know there are venture capitalists that will see their value and be willing to invest.

Moguldom: Although you have been hosting several events, you’re really just beginning with the foundation of the initiative. Can you name a couple of your standout companies thus far to go through the incubator?

Nadiyah Johnson: We focus on five to seven companies per year to focus primarily on their success. We definitely believe we have some standout companies. Minorities to Majorities is one I’m super excited about.  It’s an extremely important app that presents opportunities to underrepresented individuals, whether it be gender, race, or sexual orientation, with jobs and scholarships — information this community of people may not have been aware of previously. There are so many opportunities, and our people are not always made aware of it. Another one we are working with which we’re super excited about and will be helping to launch in June on Google Play is StyleQ. It is an app for connecting stylists with clients in real-time. Sort of like the Uber model for on-demand beauty style services. All of our clients are doing some amazing things. It’s so empowering to help these companies take off.

Moguldom: Where do you see Jet Constellations in five years?

Nadiyah Johnson: We’re just going to continue to innovate. We’re a software company at heart and we’ll keep working on developing our own software solutions. The core of Jet Constellations is to create products that benefit our community. The end goal is to make Milwaukee the city known for making the most black millionaires in the nation and doing so by leveraging technology.

I’m branding Milwaukee into the Milky Way Tech Hub so it can be as the most inclusive tech hub in the nation.

Nadiyah Johnson, CEO of Jet Constellations, is developing software and an ecosystem to support Milwaukee’s Black and brown entrepreneurial tech community.