More than $115 million is earmarked to help nontraditional business owners get a strong start.
Business incubators that will boost entrepreneurship on opposite ends of the state are among the projects that will take root, thanks to state funding aimed at small business owners who traditionally have a hard time obtaining capital.
The funds come from a total of $115.7 million in Diverse Business Assistance Grants announced by Governor Tony Evers in April and August. They are part of a more than $1 billion investment by the governor designed to strengthen Wisconsin’s economic resilience by targeting entrepreneurs who are women, people of color or rural residents and by providing additional support to small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
The goal is to “make entrepreneurship a possibility for everyone,” says Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “When our businesses truly serve our diverse communities, we all grow.”
The incubators are planned for Green Bay (in northeast Wisconsin) and Crawford County (along the southwest edge of the state).
On Broadway focuses on food and recreation
Green Bay nonprofit On Broadway is getting a $985,194 Diverse Business Assistance Grant to create incubators in two projects in the works: the Public Market, which will feature diverse food producers and educators, and the Shipyard, a major redevelopment that will transform a former transportation hub into a riverfront recreation hub.
On Broadway expects to provide space and support to more than 30 young companies through the two incubators. The Shipyard—which will feature a riverfront promenade, fishing pier, splash pad and outdoor event area—will also have a container park. Former shipping containers will be turned into spaces for pop-up and startup restaurants and shops.
“We want to make sure we’re offering entrepreneurs ways to move from cottage industry to brick-and-mortar space,” says Brian Johnson, On Broadway’s executive director.
Johnson wants to focus on potential business owners who may have less access to training and funding. He cites a Harvard Business Review article that said more Black women (17%) are launching startups than white women (10%) or white men (15%), but their failure rate can be higher. “We need to close that gap,” he says.
Another Green Bay nonprofit, Newcap, will boost the effort. With a $331,565 Diverse Business Assistance Grant, Newcap will teach business skills to women, people of color and members of six Northeastern Wisconsin Native American tribes.
“This program will be able to open a window of opportunity for women and minorities and say, ‘Yes, you can,’” says Michelle Madl, Newcap’s vice president of asset development. Newcap will focus particularly on child care providers and teach them business skills that will improve their chances for success.
Driftless Development devotes efforts to diversity
In Southwest Wisconsin, meanwhile, Driftless Development is getting a $65,904 Diverse Business Assistance Grant to work with entrepreneurs on developing their business knowledge.
The first priority will be to aim for a more diverse business community “that reflects our population, including women, youth and marginalized populations,” says Carol Roth, executive director of Driftless Development, which leads Crawford County’s economic development efforts.
“Through this grant, we will address existing barriers including location of services, language barriers and affordability,” she says.
Crawford County, in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region along the Mississippi River, is primarily rural, with a population of about 16,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.3% of residents live in poverty. Median household income is $51,218, which is nearly 20% below the state median household income of $63,293, and only 18.9% of Crawford County’s residents age 25 and older have earned a bachelor’s degree compared with 30.8% of residents statewide.
The Crawford County project will begin with a mobile business incubator that will provide an array of services such as business planning, mentoring and an inventors’ and entrepreneurs’ club that will include youths. Driftless Development will work on the project along with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, Couleecap and UW-Extension, and they will pitch area financial institutions to offer loans to more small businesses.
Together, they plan to lay the groundwork to create a physical space for a permanent business incubator.
“Crawford County is full of hardworking individuals with great ideas, but too often they lack the financing and business skills to turn their ideas into successful businesses. That’s where a business incubator can help,” Roth says.
The latest grant will build on the improvements the area has seen through the state’s Main Street Bounceback (MSBB) Grants. As of early August, 45 MSBB Grants had been awarded to new businesses or nonprofits that moved into vacant commercial locations in Prairie du Chien or elsewhere in Crawford County.
“These grants have benefited our downtown corridor,” says Tammie Katzung, Prairie du Chien Main Street program manager. “This next grant will allow us to help our local businesses even more.”
Wisconsin grants expand business services and funding
So far, the state has awarded $73.5 million in Diverse Business Assistance Grants to chambers of commerce and nonprofit organizations that provide services to small businesses such as coaching, marketing and social media training, financial aid, technical assistance and networking opportunities.
Organizations that have received grants include the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin ($5 million), American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin ($2.1 million), Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce ($3.4 million), Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County ($3.4 million), Latino Chamber of Commerce of Southeastern Wisconsin ($3.0 million), Madison Black Chamber of Commerce ($3.6 million), Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce ($5 million), Wisconsin Chinese Chamber of Commerce ($1.5 million), Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce ($1.6 million), and Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce ($2.0 million). A full list is available on the program’s website.
An additional $42.2 million in grants were awarded through the Diverse Business Investment Grant Program to community development financial institutions, which support micro- and small businesses through capital and credit as well as through programs providing business services. A list of recipients is available here.
Both of the diverse business grant programs are administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. The Main Street Bounceback Grants are administered by WEDC, also through ARPA funding.