Last updated on June 17th, 2021 at 12:37 pm
BizStarts will open a new office at St. Ann Center’s north side campus next month, the first step in the Milwaukee entrepreneurship organization’s move out of its Schlitz Park headquarters and into the neighborhoods it serves.
Executive director Patrick Snyder said the shift reflects the organization’s strategy of tailoring its services for underrepresented entrepreneurs, including people of color and those with low to moderate incomes.
Snyder, who joined BizStarts in spring of 2019 after leading Whitewater-based United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said the board has been exploring in recent years how the organization can better promote entrepreneurship in underserved areas. BizStarts was founded in 2008 by entrepreneurs Dan Steininger and John Torinus with the goal of providing coaching and mentoring to early-stage startups.
While the region is home to several incubators and organizations focused on college-aged entrepreneurs and those with existing connections, Snyder said the BizStarts board has recognized that a different approach is needed for those without those advantages.
Those conversations led the group to Michael Morris, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame who has developed curriculum and experiential learning programs for entrepreneurs living in conditions of adversity, which has been used in South Africa, Indiana, Syracuse and Gainesville.
BizStarts began using Morris’s curriculum with its first cohort of the BizStarts Institute Community Bootcamp in September 2020 at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care-Bucyrus Campus at 2450 W. North Ave. Of the 25 entrepreneurs to complete the program, 15 of their businesses are currently cash-flow positive, Snyder said.
In July, BizStarts will officially open an office at the Bucyrus campus, which provides day care for children, elders and adults with disabilities. The office includes space for administrative staff and coaching and mentoring for clients.
“We want to be represented in the community where we’re doing the work, and where many of our clients live,” Snyder said.
Snyder added that the campus could also host community events that raise awareness of entrepreneurship opportunities, such as an outdoor vendor market where clients sell their products.
St. Ann, which provides day care services at two Milwaukee locations, sees economic development as part of its mission.
“We are extremely excited to have BizStarts join us at our north side Bucyrus Campus,” said John Jansen, St. Ann Center’s vice president of grants and community engagement. “We really want to help this neighborhood become a place where people can live, work and prosper. BizStarts is a proven leader in job creation and having them on-site is going to have a major positive impact on this neighborhood.”
Snyder envisions the partnership becoming a model that BizStarts will replicate in other community-based sites, including St. Ann’s south side location (2801 E. Morgan Ave.), Havenwoods Neighborhood Partnership (6161 N. 64th St.), and Riverworks Development Corp. (526 E. Concordia Ave.).
Once it completes its rollout into those neighborhood sites over the next six months, BizStarts will move out of its Schlitz Park office, where it has been headquartered for the past 12 years.
Snyder acknowledged that the downtown office complex has been “really, really good” to BizStarts – and its owners have believed in the mission – but the organization needs to be in the neighborhoods of those it wants to reach.
“There is no way you can be as effective as you need to be unless you’re in the neighborhoods you’re serving,” Snyder said, noting that proximity breeds credibility and friendships.
“It’s just the right way to do it,” he said.
For example, being at St. Ann means people who come in seeking the nonprofit organization’s services end up hearing about BizStarts and enroll in the program. And, Snyder said, his team feeds off the energy of St. Ann’s.
“To work with (St. Ann Center founder and president Sister Edna Lonergan) is joyful,” Snyder said. “The relationships are really joyful relationships. … Having an office there was just the next thing to do to partner together. With Sister Edna and St. Ann and BizStarts, it’s really 1 plus 1 equals 4, because we get a lot of energy from each other.”
While 125 people applied to participate in the organization’s fall 2020 boot camp, it had to restrict capacity to 25 people due to COVID-related gathering limits. In May, BizStarts expanded capacity to 35 people, out of 135 applications. Based on Morris’s experience with his South Bend, Indiana boot camp program, 45 people is an ideal cohort.
“That’s why we’re trying to expand capacity; there’s so much need for the program and the opportunity, we want to make it bigger,” Snyder said.
Snyder said many people have been inspired to strike out on their own and turn their passions into a business in the wake of COVID-19, a phenomenon that is borne out in new business application data trends both nationally and statewide.
“For the businesses that are coming out of the first cohort, the reason they came in was not because they were discouraged by COVID, but encouraged by COVID that they needed to take control of the future and COVID-proof themselves,” Snyder said.
Some of those new ventures have included a home-cleaning business that expanded to include car detailing and commercial cleaning; a candle-maker that has since begun selling products at four Outpost stores; and a successful scholarship recipient who launched a business to help other Black and brown students secure scholarships.
In total, BizStarts worked with 600 entrepreneurs last year, 70% of whom live in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, according to BizStarts’ annual report. Eighty-three percent of the businesses it worked with are owned by people of color, and 67% are owned by women. Just over a third (37%) moved from pre-revenue to in business and the same percentage left their full-time job to pursue the business full-time, the report said.