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A starting point for new businesses

December 19, 2022
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Budding entrepreneurs have a broad-based resource they can use to find support and guidance to launch a business—no matter where they are in Wisconsin.

Start In Wisconsin is a website designed to help new businesses get off the ground and help existing companies pinpoint the connections that will accelerate their growth. It provides referrals, promotes networking and showcases the state’s vast resources for entrepreneurship.

Initiated by a group of entrepreneurial support organizations around the state and funded by WEDC, Start In Wisconsin pulls together an array of information about the startup world. It has two main goals, WEDC Entrepreneurship Program Director Ed Javier says:

  • To serve as an online resource that lists entrepreneurial organizations around the state
  • To provide a consolidated, statewide schedule of events aimed at entrepreneurs

Javier says the website allows entrepreneurs to quickly find resources that can assist with their business startup or growth plans.

It also opens the door to more opportunities, both financial and in terms of other types of support. For example, would-be entrepreneurs may not find the specific resources they need within their own region, but an organization elsewhere in Wisconsin may be a suitable partner.

Among the entrepreneurs who has used Start In Wisconsin is Alexander Graziano, who co-founded the Concrete Entertainment in July 2022 to create a cohesive arts ecosystem in the state and attract more film and video productions to Wisconsin. He heard about Start In Wisconsin from New North, the economic development organization for northeast Wisconsin.

“I’ve found Start In Wisconsin to be a great one-stop shop for finding pretty much any resources I need to get started, including contact info for the local supporting organizations and informational videos, and the calendar is a great way to stay connected to upcoming networking and business resource events,” Graziano says.

“I have primarily used Start In Wisconsin to research local community-supporting organizations,” he adds. “Through that research and subsequent contact, I have definitely been introduced to countless individuals who I know will play key roles in my company’s success.”

Support groups connect

The effort to assemble a coordinated hub began in 2019 when Marshaling Our Resources (MOR), an offshoot of the Milwaukee 7 Economic Development Partnership, approached WEDC seeking to work more closely with entrepreneurial groups in the Milwaukee area.

“The problem we were trying to solve is a lack of coordination among the organizations. We have a lot of them! It’s impressive—but also confusing for entrepreneurs,” says MOR cofounder Elizabeth Thelen, who is an entrepreneur and UW-Whitewater research and business development officer.

Thelen says the goal of MOR is to help the groups working with entrepreneurs to optimize their resources. “On a very basic level, it’s to learn who else is in your network. Maybe you can link and leverage resources—or get a broader picture of what’s going on in your area.”

Support groups in Milwaukee, Madison and Appleton began meeting and decided to build a platform that would round up their activities and present a more unified, coordinated front. A pilot website launched for Madison and Milwaukee in late 2020, and now, the website features groups that serve entrepreneurs statewide.

More than 200 organizations are participating. They range from the Chippewa Valley Innovation Center in Eau Claire to the Eagle River Revitalization Program to the Hispanic Collaborative in Milwaukee.

According to Javier, most often, potential entrepreneurs come to the website to find out: “How do I get started? Who do I go to about this?”

Start In Wisconsin provides a list of resources, a calendar of activities and a “toolbox” with educational and how-to videos. In addition, experts at the University of Wisconsin System are available to answer questions. “Entrepreneurs can talk to consultants to help them navigate the system,” Javier says. “It’s almost like a concierge service.”

Regional economic development organizations like the website, Javier says. “They can easily send folks to the site. It takes some of the pressure off them. What we’re trying to do is help the helpers. If we can make their lives easier, the impact is even greater for them in helping those entrepreneurs.”

From online to in-person

Beyond the online resources, WEDC is working with regional economic development organizations to host networking events to help entrepreneurs build their contacts.

“We want to sponsor events that will bring together entrepreneurs and support organizations to build a strong entrepreneurial community,” Javier says. The first events were held in September and focused on both the opportunities and the challenges facing local startups. In La Crosse, representatives from 11 entrepreneurial support groups attended a gathering hosted by the 7 Rivers Alliance, an economic development organization for the Upper Mississippi region, while Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin, a six-county regional economic development organization, drew members of 15 entrepreneurial support groups to a meeting in Green County.

Javier says the unified effort can “increase the density of the entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Wisconsin. Beyond that, it could attract startups from across the Midwest and beyond.

“If we market this, we’ll also get people from out of state. We want them to know: ‘Hey, they have all of these resources in Wisconsin. Look how easy it was for me to find what I need.’ And then we end up stealing them because we have this robust support system,” Javier says.

Thelen says Start in Wisconsin has a solid beginning, and she knows the MOR network would like to see it grow. “It is a seed, a movement in the right direction. It needs additional capacity and funding to be promoted for use. The seed needs some fertilizer and water,” she says.

“If we are serious about investing and supporting entrepreneurs, this could go far. We need to rally the troops,” Thelen says, calling for a broader commitment by WEDC, private contributors, sponsors or regional economic development organizations.

Graziano, a Wisconsin native and UW-Green Bay graduate, is enthusiastic about the efforts already underway.

“It’s incredibly helpful that all of the organizations that are there to help entrepreneurs and businesses throughout Wisconsin can stay connected, combine their resources and work together to increase the chances of success for all Wisconsin businesses,” he says.

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