Advocate Aurora Health said it will award a total of $2.1 million in grants to Milwaukee community organizations over the next month to address the social and economic needs of the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advocate Aurora announced on Thursday the first two recipients of its Better Together Fund grants.
The health care system is distributing $250,000 to the Hispanic Collaborative to support its Mercado MKE project, which will support Hispanic-owned businesses as they build out their online presence and e-commerce sales platforms.
Nancy Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the Hispanic Collaborative, said 90% of the Milwaukee area’s 5,000 Hispanic-owned businesses do not currently have e-commerce capabilities and 70% of them do not have a website presence. Mercado MKE will provide a platform for patrons to find Hispanic-owned retailers, service providers and restaurants. Participation in the marketplace will be available for free to businesses through the grant.
“It will be an immediate impact to their viability and bottom line and it will be a long-term impact of strengthening the sector of businesses and making them more competitive,” Hernandez said.
One hundred businesses will be brought onto the marketplace by the end of the year, and the collaborative expects to add more in 2021.
The Hispanic Collaborative publicly launched in early 2019 as an effort to improve economic opportunities and representation among Latinos in the region.
Advocate Aurora is also granting $250,000 to the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin for its RISE entrepreneurial training program. RISE, which launched in 2018, provides a 14-week cohort-based program to help underserved entrepreneurs get their businesses of the ground. Curriculum focuses on marketing, branding, finance, business development and coaching.
To date, the program has produced 52 alumni, 41 new or existing businesses within the Milwaukee area and 36 jobs created, said Ossie Kendrix, CEO of the chamber.
Kendrix noted 62% of RISE alumni do not have websites and e-commerce platforms. Funds from the Better Together Fund will allow the program to provide business owners with training and technical support to build out those platforms.
Christy Garcia-Thomas, chief external affairs officer for Advocate Aurora, said the system will announce an additional nine grant recipients over the next month. Those grants will focus on various factors that contribute to life expectancy disparities in the community, including behavioral health, food insecurity, housing and community safety, Garcia-Thomas said.
Advocate Aurora has invested $15 million from the Better Together Fund since it was created in 2016.