To help fill resource gaps, launch new initiatives and build stronger community networks for entrepreneurs in Wisconsin, WEDC created the Entrepreneurship Support Program. Specifically for nonprofit and community-based organizations, this grant program is designed to advance the statewide climate for entrepreneurship by offering impactful services and resources to aspiring business owners.
Launched in 2016 as a pilot program, the grants were met with strong interest and a demonstrated need to increase resources for Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and in 2017 moved beyond a pilot to become a part of WEDC’s core program offerings. Out of 36 applications that were submitted, 11 were chosen to receive a total of $500,000 in funding to assist an estimated 640 businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators across the state.
“Entrepreneurs launching successful new ventures play an important role in the prosperity of their communities,” says WEDC Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Aaron Hagar,. “The projects funded by these grants will provide essential resources, address unmet needs in communities with unique challenges, and help to build a statewide culture that celebrates entrepreneurs and encourages them to pursue their business ideas.”
Recipients of this year’s Entrepreneurship Support Program grants include:
- BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation: $65,000 to organize and host three iterations of the successful HATCH entrepreneurial pitch program in three regions of Wisconsin for a total of nine events.
- BizStarts, Milwaukee: $80,000 to provide, in collaboration with Launch MKE, an innovative, cohort-based training program that includes long-term coaching to entrepreneurs in underserved, low-wealth neighborhoods in Milwaukee.
- Nicolet Area Technical College: $25,000 to expand entrepreneurial training, mentorship and support throughout six counties in northern Wisconsin, including additional offerings of the Nicolet Entrepreneurial Training program, .
- UW-Stout Center for Innovation and Development: $50,000 to expand the “Idea to Prototype” program in 2018 to innovators statewide. The program provides inventors with an opportunity to have their ideas evaluated for feasibility and market potential.
- Oconto County Economic Development Corporation: $43,000 to continue implementing and expanding its Business Innovation Development Program, which provides entrepreneurs with early engagement, strategic planning and ongoing business coaching.
- Heart of Wisconsin Community Incubator: $17,000 to provide entrepreneurial training to individuals incarcerated at the Wood County Jail, including educational sessions, individualized business coaching and mentorship.
- Green County Development Corporation: $40,000 to fund elements of an entrepreneurship support strategy developed by countywide stakeholders, including engaging and assessing current and aspiring entrepreneurs, establishing a mentor network to assist business owners, and technical assistance to entrepreneurs.
- WiSolve Consulting Group: $50,000 to provide entrepreneurial support to technology-based businesses through low-cost consulting services delivered by teams of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at UW-Madison.
- Couleecap Inc.: $62,000 to support entrepreneurs in four western Wisconsin communities by expanding two programs: a nine-week entrepreneurial development course to three cohorts of startup companies in La Crosse, Viroqua and Sparta; and expanding the “Pop Up Shop” program to retail districts in downtown La Crosse, “Uptowne” La Crosse, Sparta, Bangor and Viroqua to provide entrepreneurs with direct assistance as they conduct proof-of-concept tests of their business ideas.
- Indianhead Community Action Agency Inc.: $41,000 to provide and expand the agency’s business development programming to entrepreneurs by extending its no-cost technical assistance and loan fund availability to businesses in its 13-county region; recruiting small businesses to access capital available through the Indianhead Community Action Agency loan programs; and expanding the agency’s “Small Business Academy.”
- CESA (Cooperative Educational Service Agency) 3: $27,000 to organize and deliver an Entrepreneurship Skills Academy for 31 school districts in southwestern Wisconsin.
“The 11 projects selected for funding in 2018 showcase the variety of unique ideas and opportunities we have to support entrepreneurship in Wisconsin,” says Hagar. “More importantly, it clearly shows the local and statewide enthusiasm for making entrepreneurship a centerpiece of community and economic development efforts.”