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Innovative grants nurture Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial spirit

February 25, 2022
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Wisconsin entrepreneurs got a boost this month from a new WEDC grant program that fosters creative, inclusive approaches to growing and supporting businesses across the state. Among the awardees is Beloit-based Rising Queens, which aims to increase Black-owned small businesses in the area through workshops and one-on-one coaching.

Community organizations in Wausau, Beloit, Milwaukee and Rhinelander received a total of $170,850 in the inaugural round of Entrepreneurship Partner Grants, which help spur economic growth and impact under-resourced communities with fresh approaches to entrepreneurship. 

“These grants allow organizations to test new ideas in an effort to stimulate entrepreneurship,” says Aaron Hagar, WEDC vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation. “The recipients showed both creativity and the promise of bringing these new ideas to life to establish a culture of entrepreneurship across a variety of communities.” 

WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes says the grants will help address gaps in entrepreneurship throughout the state and broaden the opportunities available to up-and-coming businesses. 

The awardees have well-thought-out plans to address the needs of their communities,” says Hughes. “Most of the awards have a focus on communities of color and/or rural communities to expand the resources for entrepreneurs. We hope these programs reach entrepreneurs throughout the state and become sustainable programs moving forward.”  

The grants require a minimum one-to-one match by the organizations. 

The recipients and their projects are: 

The Hmong American Center’s Npau Suav (Dream) program: This Wausau group won a $50,000 grant to provide resources to start up new ventures and support existing businesses. It will offer services including technical assistance, mentoring, marketing, educational training and office space. It will also focus on the needs of businesses shifting because of the pandemic. 

The Center for Teaching Entrepreneurship: The center, based in Milwaukee, will use its $21,000 grant in its Aspire+Create+Grow program to help meet the needs and interests of youth in Milwaukee. The program provides entrepreneurship education, mentoring and technical support to participants aged 9-24. 

The Greater Milwaukee Committee: Teaming with Starting Block and Work Around, the committee is working to create a shared platform for Milwaukee and Madison entrepreneurial ecosystems. Its $40,000 grant will help develop the platform, allowing the communities to share resources and provide networking opportunities and event promotion. 

Nicolet College: This Rhinelander institution won a $35,000 grant to create an interactive map to display regional resources for entrepreneurs. The “Innovation Illumination” map will expand on the Start in Wisconsin Resource Navigator to easily identify innovation spaces, connect innovators and show event opportunities. 

Rising Queens: This Beloit organization aims to increase Black-owned small businesses in the area through workshops and one-on-one coaching. The $24,850 grant will help provide participants with the knowledge of the basics of starting a business and access to a network to help support their efforts. 

The applications were judged on their feasibility, goals, track record, need, potential outcomes and evidence that the projects would have an impact. 

The Entrepreneurship Partner Grants have two tracks—this competitive phase to test new ideas and another round for established and proven programs, such as seed accelerators. The second track allows organizations to apply throughout the year if funding is available. 

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