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Q&A with Heather Wentler, Doyenne Group

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Q&A with Heather Wentler, executive director and co-founder, Doyenne Group

Doyenne Group has built an entrepreneurial ecosystem that invests in the power and potential of women entrepreneurs. Doyenne’s Evergreen Fund is a one-of-a-kind fund created to meet a venture’s needs based on where it is in the life cycle of a business. The Doyenne Evergreen Fund provides grants, loans and equity investments for women-led ventures in Wisconsin. All of our investment returns cycle back into the fund to support further investments. The Doyenne Evergreen Fund is financed with public, private, state and city dollars. We recently spoke with Heather Wentler, Doyenne Group’s executive director and co-founder, who told us more about the organization’s operations.

Q: How was the Doyenne Evergreen Fund formed?

A: The Doyenne Evergreen Fund was formed after Doyenne Group held a summit of local women entrepreneurs, organizations and leaders to discuss where are we still seeing gaps for supporting women entrepreneurs in our state. The Evergreen Fund is an innovative approach to bring together state, city and private dollars to support women entrepreneurs. Doyenne received seed money for the Evergreen Fund through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Capital Catalyst Program, the City of Madison’s Small Business Development Resource Fund, the Madison Community Foundation’s “A Fund for Women,” the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, and private donors. The dollars we were awarded will be used as grants, loans and equity investments for women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color throughout Wisconsin.

Q: Tell us about the programs Doyenne offers.

A: Doyenne focuses on four main areas to empower and create pathways to success for the entrepreneurs we work with:

  1. Develop: Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires new skills and pushing your boundaries on a daily basis. Our programming in this area focuses on developing the individual as an entrepreneur along with developing their business and growth of the business.
  2. Connect: The majority of our events and programs are open to the public. Programming in this area helps individuals grow their networks, increase the visibility of their businesses, and showcase the innovation and success they’re achieving.
  3. Collaborate: Doyenne Group was founded because women weren’t being equally represented in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. From our very beginning, we have worked to collaborate and partner with other organizations within the ecosystem to change the face of entrepreneurialism and create a stronger, more inclusive ecosystem that supports all entrepreneurs within Wisconsin.
  4. Fund the ventures: Along with the Evergreen Fund, create a pipeline for future funding of businesses, and make connections locally and nationally for businesses to receive the funding they are seeking.

Q: What kind of companies can apply for the fund?

A: Applicants must be Wisconsin-based businesses with a majority share owned by a woman/women and/or person/people of color, with the potential to scale to reach a national or international market, and must demonstrate innovation within their business sector. Companies can apply for mixed funding options, meaning they can apply for a grant, a loan and equity investment all at the same time.

Q: How does Doyenne benefit the state’s overall business climate?

A: Doyenne’s approach to working with businesses is different from what other organizations are offering. Many of our collaborators and partners offer programming on topics such as how to use Quickbooks or how to write a business plan, or are focused on networking and making introductions. These are all very important aspects of running your business, and we promote these opportunities to our members, but we believe that there is more to running a business than just learning skills and completing tasks. Being an entrepreneur is an identity—a process individuals go through over time and at different stages in their lives. Doyenne provides a space for the entrepreneurs to be real, be heard and have a community of people stand with them as they move through their business’s life journey. That experience—something many entrepreneurs are looking for and craving—is what makes Doyenne’s offerings different. They were designed to fill a gap that existed in our state’s business climate.

Q: Why is Wisconsin an ideal location to start a business?

A: When you drive into Wisconsin the signs say it all: Wisconsin is open for business. We meet people from across the country who have moved to Wisconsin to run their businesses because our state has such a vast and supportive network for entrepreneurs. When you look at the caliber of conferences focusing on entrepreneurship put on throughout the year—including Forward Fest, Wisconsin Startup Week, Launch Wisconsin, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and many more—you can see that our state and entrepreneurial ecosystem rally together to continue to move our businesses forward.

Q: What is the best way for companies to learn more or apply to the Doyenne Evergreen Fund?

A: The Doyenne Group website has information about the Evergreen Fund, and the application will be launching this month. People can go there to find more information on what types of businesses qualify for funding. Interested persons should also join our mailing list via our website, as we send out lots of information about how to get connected, stay connected and become part of the Doyenne community.