MARKETPLACE celebrates and promotes minority business success
MARKETPLACE, Wisconsin’s capstone event for minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses, once again logged a record-breaking year in 2016, with more than 700 registrants and the event selling out in advance.
“We are thrilled that MARKETPLACE set a new record as it logged its 35th anniversary,” says Barb LaMue, vice president of business and community development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which organizes the annual event. “The event helps business owners from diverse groups forge connections and learn from one another, as well as connect with buyers. With each passing year, the event only improves in terms of quality and the number of connections that are made.”
Words of encouragement at Small Business Academy
Small Business Academy, a half-day add-on workshop for startups and aspiring entrepreneurs, was offered for the third year in a row, and once again proved popular, with more than 200 registrants. During both Small Business Academy and the main program, a special effort was made this year to feature the voices of business owners, who shared what they’ve learned—both successes and challenges—for the benefit of attendees.
“You’ve just got to be bold,” Milwaukee resident Jeremy Taylor told an audience of entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners during Small Business Academy. When he was laid off from a job in banking, Taylor chose to pursue his long-held dream of starting a business. His Cajun-style food truck, Bourbon on Wheels, will open this spring. “If you want to do it,” he told listeners, “you’ve got to do it.”
Jean Marie Thiel, president of West Bend-based Belonger Corporation—a certified minority-owned and woman-owned business—offered words of encouragement for fellow business owners during the Governor’s Awards Luncheon: “Hang in there and don’t give up. The long haul and hard work are worth it as long as you continue to move forward.”
Award winners, new grants announced
The prestigious MARKETPLACE Governor’s Awards were conferred on a new crop of companies at this year’s conference, which also featured workshops on business topics; information for entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners about resources for funding, mentorship and other business assistance; networking opportunities; and scheduled meetings with potential buyers for their products and services.
Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., received the Community Economic Development Award for his work as a leader in urban and rural agriculture and food policy, a path he embarked on after retiring from professional basketball and a corporate career with Procter & Gamble. Growing Power is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit whose mission is to transform the planning, cultivation, production and delivery of healthy food to urban and rural populations. Allen, the author of The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities, has previously received a MacArthur Grant and the James Beard Award, among other honors.
ReDonna Rodgers, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Teaching Entrepreneurship, received the Community Economic Development Award for youth entrepreneurship, and Bay Bank of Green Bay received the same award in the category of investing and supporting local communities.
Also at this year’s conference, Governor Walker announced $585,000 worth of grants to five organizations that provide assistance to minority-owned businesses in Wisconsin. The grants support initiatives such as business training workshops, financial awareness programs, assistance with securing financing, networking opportunities and one-on-one mentoring. Four of the five organizations (the statewide minority chambers of commerce) also administer revolving loan funds supported by WEDC, and a portion of the grant funding will be used to administer that program and assist businesses in applying for loans.
These organizations play a crucial role in supporting the growth of minority-owned businesses across Wisconsin. During the last fiscal year, $505,500 in WEDC investment through these organizations drew $1.1 million in company match and partner investment, as well as $5.9 million in private loans. The revolving loan fund closed 33 loans during the fiscal year, for projects involving the creation of 97 jobs and the retention of another 95. These organizations held 48 workshops on business development topics during the fiscal year, and assisted a total of 338 businesses.
This year’s MARKETPLACE conference was a success on a number of measures: in addition to drawing record attendance, 54 buyers representing 34 organizations attended, holding a total of 667 meetings to discuss potential purchases from minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses.