Cardinal Stritch launches business accelerator for nonprofits

20-week program helps organizations become more entrepreneurial

Mission Fuel participants develop their innovative concepts using the Business Model Canvas.

Last updated on May 14th, 2019 at 04:35 am

Cardinal Stritch University has launched an accelerator program for nonprofit leaders to address a pressing challenge many organizations face: finding a sustainable funding model to accomplish their mission.

Mission Fuel participants develop their innovative concepts using the Business Model Canvas.

The new 20-week program, called Mission Fuel, uses a business accelerator model to help nonprofit leaders improve their financial operations and become more entrepreneurial.

As nonprofits compete for funding from philanthropists, foundations and government sources, many are looking to diversify their revenue streams through earned revenue, said Mark Gesner, executive director of the Stritch Hub for Innovation and Community Engaged Learning.

“How do you balance mission with your margin? How do you remain financially sustainable? It’s something that many nonprofit leaders struggle with and it’s something we’ve been wanting to address for many years,” Gesner said. “In talking with community leaders, it was clearly an issue of importance.”

The program’s first cohort includes 21 nonprofit leaders representing eight organizations, Community First, Safe & Sound, Wisconsin Community Services, Journey House, Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, Literacy Services of Wisconsin and Carmen Schools of Science & Technology.

Program participants complete weekly coursework related to innovation, are paired mentors, and have the opportunity to develop and implement a new innovation or service to make their organization more sustainable.

“It’s about giving them the capacity and the skills to be more innovative and then leave with one specific innovation,” Gesner said. “We want to make sure they’re learning how to fish for the resources, but we also want to make sure they have at least one fish by the time they leave.”

In addition to weekly classroom instruction, participants receive mentorship from members of the The Commons entrepreneur pool and Cardinal Stritch alumni, as well as executive leadership coaching and on-site consulting at their organizations.

The university has piloted the program this semester and plans to launch a new cohort in September. The program, which is part of the Stritch Hub for Innovation and Community Engaged Learning, is funded by the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority,

Mission Fuel costs $7,000 per participant. Gesner said the program is seeking additional supporters to offer scholarships.

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