$2.1 million was awarded to 20 organizations in two rounds of grant funding this year.
A total of 20 organizations that support entrepreneurs in Wisconsin were awarded $2 million in Entrepreneurship Partner Grants from WEDC this year.
The program, initiated in 2021, provides matching grants to organizations that give training, financing, mentorship, technical support, and other resources to entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners around the state—particularly those who have less access to capital, such as women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and rural residents.
Three rounds of competition were held during fiscal year 2023, with an emphasis on rural entrepreneurship during the third round, says Aaron Hagar, WEDC vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Hagar says he’s pleased to see the response from underrepresented groups: “That’s been really encouraging. The applications have shown strong demand from a lot of different sectors, both demographically and geographically. In this last round, we recognized that we needed to find a better way to reach projects impacting rural entrepreneurs, and a specific call to action helped us achieve that,” he says.
Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO, says the program helps to establish a culture of entrepreneurship: “Wisconsin stands behind its innovators and business owners.”
The 2023 grant recipients are:
Hmong American Center, Wausau ($37,500): About 75 businesses will receive free or low-cost office rentals.
WiSys, Madison ($106,000): WiSys will offer its VentureHome program in five locations to support entrepreneurs and to create a statewide network of mentors for underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Doyenne, Madison ($90,000): Between 12 and 16 companies will be able to participate in Doyenne’s Triple Threat Venture Training Program.
Couleecap, Sparta ($72,300): Couleecap supports small businesses, low-income business owners, and entrepreneurs in rural communities through pop-up shop programs, the CO.STARTERS entrepreneurial training program, business development technical assistance, microenterprise loans, COVID business recovery grants, startup grants, and small business incubator services.
Develop America, Milwaukee ($150,000): Early-stage Black-owned businesses will receive technical assistance and grants ranging from $5,000 to $40,000.
BizStarts, Milwaukee ($150,000): English- and Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs will receive a specialized training curriculum.
Milky Way Tech Hub, Milwaukee ($85,000): Underrepresented entrepreneurs in the tech industry will receive training, mentorship, and in some cases capital investments.
Platteville Business Incubator, Platteville ($37,000): Monthly business seminars will be held and young businesses will be matched with mentors.
Oconto County Economic Development Corporation, Oconto ($100,000): An entrepreneurship training program for youth and young adults will be created, and new and existing Main Street businesses will receive support.
SCORE, Milwaukee ($75,100): SCORE’s mentoring program will be expanded in rural communities.
Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council, Independence ($82,500): The council will help launch 12 new businesses with education, training, and a $2,000 grant toward startup costs.
Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College, Green Bay ($6,200): The college’s Center for Entrepreneurship will provide business planning and services to at least 20 entrepreneurs from rural counties, with the goal of moving at least 10 of those businesses into their next stage within six months.
Food Finance Institute, Madison ($180,000): The Food Finance Institute (FFI), part of the University of Wisconsin System’s Institute for Business and Entrepreneurship, is providing education, training, and mentorship to entrepreneurs developing food processing and value-added agricultural businesses through its FFI Fellows program, a six-month accelerator program.
UW-Madison Division of Extension, West Allis ($150,000): The Defy Ventures boot camp offers entrepreneurship training to individuals after incarceration.
MCDEVCO, Wausau ($30,000): MCDEVCO operates mentorship programs and provides educational programming to support business growth in Marathon County and Central Wisconsin.
Collaboration For Good, Madison ($150,000): The Collaboration For Good’s Social Good Accelerator offers an entrepreneurship boot camp aimed at women and people of color.
FOR-M, Milwaukee ($175,000): A nonprofit part of the Milwaukee Tech Hub Coalition, FOR-M operates an accelerator that helps entrepreneurs take their businesses from the concept stage to startup, with training and financial assistance.
Forward BIOLABS, Madison ($93,600): Forward BIOLABS offers startups the use of life science labs, training, and technical assistance to help expedite research and establish businesses.
Leading Change, Madison ($175,000): The nonprofit Leading Change will offer the Young Enterprising Society’s YES Blueprint program in Madison. The 12-week accelerator is aimed at tech startups led by women and Black entrepreneurs.
Five Lakes Institute, Milwaukee ($175,000): The Five Lakes Institute will run two sessions of the YES Blueprint program in Milwaukee.
Entrepreneurship Partner Grants range from $10,000 to $200,000, and are available for new and pilot programs as well as more established programs that assist entrepreneurs. Recipients are required to match WEDC allocations with cash funds or eligible expenses.
Hagar says the Entrepreneurship Partner Grants Program will receive slightly more funding—about $2.25 million—for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2023, and will be able to help around 20 applicants again. Applications for the first round of FY24 grants are due Aug. 31.
“We are really encouraged by the number of different partner organizations that are out there trying to support entrepreneurs in their communities,” Hagar says. “They have both passion and dedication for coming up with really creative solutions that fit their constituencies.”
He adds: “Our big-picture goal is to create a widespread network of resources available for entrepreneurs that are appropriate for their stage of development. By leveraging the bandwidth and commitment of these programs, we hope to put resources in place around the state to extend our reach—because we can’t do it by ourselves.”