African American Chamber introduces business accelerator

RISE to target entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods

Ossie Kendrix

The African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin is launching a new business accelerator called RISE for entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods.

RISE is based on the successful MORTAR program in Cincinnati. A cohort of Milwaukee leaders, including African American Chamber president and chief executive officer Ossie Kendrix, traveled to Cincinnati several months ago to see MORTAR in action, Kendrix said.

MORTAR has graduated 180 entrepreneurs over the past four years, and their businesses have helped revitalize vacant city-owned storefronts in Cincinnati, he said.

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“The goal is really working with startups and what we are considering as neighborhood entrepreneurs,” Kendrix said. “A few of us delegates went to Cincinnati and spoke to some of the entrepreneurs, some of the facilitators, some of the MORTAR organization leaders…trying to figure out how we could bottle up that entrepreneurial synergy and release it within the greater Milwaukee community.

“We chose to sign an agreement with MORTAR to develop a curriculum that really mirrors their efforts but is very relatable to Milwaukee residents in putting them through an intentional entrepreneurship training program.”

The African American Chamber will administer the program in partnership with LISC Milwaukee and The Milwaukee Urban League as part of their Ramp Up Project, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase, which also includes the Pop-Up MKE initiative and their new Financial Opportunity Centers.

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Graduates of the RISE program could potentially fill some of the vacant storefronts that are part of Pop-Up MKE, said Donsia Strong Hill, executive director of LISC Milwaukee.

“We really thought having a culturally contextualized program would really make a difference for neighborhood entrepreneurs,” Strong Hill said. “We’re very interested in not displacing, culturally or otherwise, people who have been in these neighborhoods and supporting the neighbors and trying to support their families in these neighborhoods.”

RISE aims to offer education, guidance and mentorship for entrepreneurs, and Kendrix plans to cover topics such as business development, marketing, branding and network development. RISE also will provide access to capital funds of up to $35,000 for participants, and the opportunity to pitch their businesses to potential investors.

Having grown up in Milwaukee’s challenged 53206 zip code and in Sherman Park, Kendrix said he knows the importance of helping potential entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to start a business in underserved neighborhoods.

“One of the lessons at a young age is if you can’t find a job, make a job,” he said.

The first RISE cohort will target the Harambee neighborhood where the Urban League is located. The second cohort will target the Lindsay Heights neighborhood, and the third will target Clark Square, Kendrix said.

The first rise cohort will begin July 9 at the Urban League offices, and class will be held once a week for 14 weeks. The chamber is accepting applications through June 29, and plans to choose about 14 entrepreneurs from any industry to participate. The cost for entrepreneurs is $250.

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