Scale Up Milwaukee gives early-stage businesses tools to get to the next level

Anyone who has ever started their own business knows that it’s not easy. From securing capital to staking out locations to hiring employees to cutting through red tape, entrepreneurship can be pretty daunting.

And the truth is, it doesn’t get much easier after the business has been around for a couple of years. Yes, some of the headaches of being a startup disappear, but they’re replaced with new ones–like training and retaining employees, developing ways to grow your company and expand your customer base, and finding even more capital to get your business to the next phase.

That’s where Scale Up Milwaukee comes in.

The program, which just launched its second year, is an innovative initiative that provides training, resources and networking opportunities to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses through a regional entrepreneurship ecosystem.

In its inaugural year, Scale Up Milwaukee conducted a number of activities to raise awareness about the importance of scaling existing businesses, including listening sessions to understand local opportunities and obstacles; a workshop to improve the flow of entrepreneurial finance; and a forum where more than 200 corporations and entrepreneurs focused on how to partner for mutual benefit.

Another key element of Scale Up was the Scalerator program, where a dozen businesses participated in an intense training program focused on rapidly increasing growth.

The early results of the first phase of the Scalerator have been impressive. For the second quarter of 2014, average increase in revenues for companies that went through the program was 26 percent over the same period in 2013. And those companies have hired at least 21 new employees in the last year.

Because of the positive results of the first year of Scale Up Milwaukee, the five partners that are underwriting Scale Up Milwaukee have committed more than $1.5 million in funding for the second year, which will further accelerate activities established during the first year and roll out new programs to build on initial successes.

The program is supported by American Express OPEN, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

The second phase calls for developing more educational programs for entrepreneurs; working with local, county and state government to support entrepreneurial growth; collaborating with local economic development groups to create their own scale-up programs; and helping to unlock existing debt and equity capital.

In addition, Scalerator will be expanded from two to six months, will be expanded from 12 to 14 businesses, and will work with regional stakeholders to support that growth in various ways.

Scale Up Milwaukee is part of a national initiative, OPEN for Enterprise: Coalitions for High-Growth Entrepreneurship, launched in March 2013 by Daniel Isenberg, founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Projects, and American Express OPEN. The initiative helps urban communities convene multiple stakeholder–public and private–with the sole purpose of fostering economic growth. Milwaukee is the first U.S. city to apply entrepreneurship ecosystem methodologies developed by Isenberg to support and “scale up” new and existing ventures and the supporting ecosystem.

“Scale Up Milwaukee is a game-changer for not just Milwaukee but for other cities looking to jumpstart their economies and entrepreneurial activities,” said Julia Taylor, Greater Milwaukee Committee president. “We’re pleased with the participation from each of our partners and look forward to intensifying our engagement with the Milwaukee community to create a lasting impact on our regional economy.”

“The work is just starting. You don’t foster an entrepreneurship ecosystem or its accompanied growth overnight,” said Daniel Isenberg. “We encourage anyone who believes in growth to actively participate in the Scale Up Milwaukee platform. A thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem in any community, including Milwaukee, will require the active involvement of everyone, and there is room to take part.”

For more information on the initiative, visit

(October 2014)