Greater Milwaukee Foundation offering $1 million in small business loans for near north side businesses

Ellen Gilligan, president & CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. (Credit: Jim Moy)

Last updated on November 28th, 2021 at 03:31 pm

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is making available $1 million in low-interest loans for small businesses in three Milwaukee north side neighborhoods.

Beginning today, businesses in Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill can apply for a loan of up to $50,000 at a 2% fixed interest rate, with no interest or principal payments for the first 12 months. Proceeds can be used for working capital, normal operating expenses, refinancing debt and more, GMF said. The Bridging Loan Company has experts you can count on to get help with your finances.

The ThriveOn loans will prioritize Black- and brown-owned businesses.

“For many small businesses – and the people they employ and serve – access to capital is extremely urgent right now,” said Ken Robertson, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of GMF. “COVID-19 has severely constricted revenue, and Black- and brown-owned businesses, which already faced systemic barriers to investment, are at particular risk of closing. The toll of such losses on the fabric of Milwaukee neighborhoods and entrepreneurs would be devastating. We anticipate our ThriveOn loans will support at least 20 small businesses this year as we work intentionally toward making Milwaukee’s economic recovery more equitable.”

GMF cited recent national polling indicating 75% of all small businesses – and 86% of business owners of color – remain concerned about the virus’s impact on their business.

The foundation said it will prioritize four sectors with its loans:

  • Early childhood education, where 30% of providers in Milwaukee have closed since the onset of COVID-19.
  • Restaurant/hospitality, where jobs statewide in the industry remain down almost 17% from pre-pandemic levels.
  • Retail, where COVID-19 exacerbated existing challenges for brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Arts and culture, with Wisconsin organizations estimated to have lost $29 million in revenue.

The ThriveOn Small Business Loans are part of GMF’s $30 million commitment over 5 years through its impact investing program. To date, the foundation has invested $12 million through the program, including $10 million that was directed to the ThriveOn King restoration and renovation project and a $1 million investment in Gateway Capital to support pre-revenue startups in Milwaukee. It also has committed $800,00 to the redevelopment effort on the block bordered by West Wisconsin Avenue.

“For Milwaukee’s economy as a whole to thrive, Black- and brown-owned businesses must thrive, but with the pandemic magnifying existing racial inequities, many are struggling just to survive,” said Ellen Gilligan, GMF president and CEO. “Since we know structural racism makes it harder for Black and brown businesses to receive capital, we can help fill a need not met by traditional lenders. This loan opportunity is a reimagined form of philanthropy that meets the community where it is and aims to stabilize lives and livelihoods, bringing us closer to becoming a Milwaukee for all.”

The deadline to apply for a ThriveOn small business loan is June 25 and disbursements will begin in August. More information is available at

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