When the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) unveiled its newest accelerator cohort in December, it reflected the reality that entrepreneurial thinking in Wisconsin isn’t just limited to the startups themselves, but also the programs that support them.
When the closure of Gateway Technical College’s Launch Box co-working space was announced last fall, Launch Box director Thalia Mendez immediately began exploring alternatives for entrepreneurs to still have a source and venue for training. The result is the WWBIC Growth Accelerator, which will continue the programming in a new form.
The new accelerator is a partnership between the WWBIC and WEDC. WEDC provided an $80,000 matching grant through its Seed Accelerator Program that was launched in 2012 to support nonprofit accelerators that support pre-seed, technology-based and growth-oriented businesses. The accelerator is one of 13 supported by the program, which has assisted more than 200 entrepreneurial ventures throughout Wisconsin. WEDC’s other entrepreneurial resources include support for early-stage investor tax credits, seed capital funds and technology loans. In addition, WEDC supports and engages an existing statewide network of partners that offers business training, mentorship and financing to aspiring entrepreneurs.
The WWBIC Growth Accelerator targets entrepreneurs in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties, providing education and training, mentoring, technical assistance and counseling, and financial assistance to entrepreneurs in rural and urban areas. It is led by Mendez, who is certified as an accelerator facilitator, with the goal of helping teams develop their business models by conducting consumer testing, gathering customer input, receiving mentorship and meeting with potential investors.
The inaugural five-team cohort was formed in late 2018 and is meeting for 10 weeks. Its teams will pitch their businesses at a Demo Day at noon on Feb. 14 at the SC Johnson iMet Center on the Gateway Tech campus in Sturtevant. Mendez has said that the identities of the companies in the cohort will not be revealed until that event, which will be a friendly forum to review the participants’ progress and allow them to receive seed grants of between $2,500 and $5,000.
A second cohort, also made up of five teams, is scheduled to launch later this month. WWBIC is working to raise matching funds for the WEDC grant to move ahead with a third cohort and intends to offer the program on a quarterly basis if these fundraising efforts are successful.
“Wisconsin has a significant interest in supporting entrepreneurship and the development of new businesses for the purpose of long-term economic growth,” said Aaron Hagar, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for WEDC. “Under the leadership of WWBIC, this accelerator program will play a critical role in filling funding gaps and providing startups with the technical and financial assistance they need to become successful.”
“WWBIC is thrilled to have this needed support to continue to advance this accelerator program in southeastern Wisconsin,” added Wendy Baumann, WWBIC president and chief visionary officer.
Established in 1987, WWBIC is an economic development corporation focused on providing direct lending and access to capital, quality business education, one-on-one business assistance and education to women, people of color and low-income individuals. Since its inception, WWBIC has lent more than $60 million in micro- and small business loans, with a current loan portfolio of $18 million and 474 active borrowers. Startups account for 55 percent of its loan portfolio.