Jewish Foundation grant to help minority-owned businesses

The Jewish Foundation for Economic Opportunity (JFEO) recently gave $100,000 to create a new loan fund within the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC). The new fund, to be administered by the WWBIC, will help nurture and grow minority-owned businesses in the Milwaukee area.

The JFEO was formed in 1992 by several local Jewish business owners and lawyers to help improve living conditions in Milwaukee, said Rick Florsheim, founder and president of the foundation. He also is a partner at the Milwaukee law firm Foley & Lardner LLP.

The JFEO has made-low interest loans to help more than 20 businesses get off the ground or grow since it started, Florsheim said. "We seized on our strong suit, which was business, and we hoped to identify people that didn’t have the sort of network that the majority of us had to raise capital and make introductions," Florsheim said. "We’ve helped a bunch of businesses, but we’re very low key."

The WWBIC has provided loan administration, documentation, location of potential loan clients and other administrative functions for the JFEO’s loan program since the mid-1990’s. "They knew the people in need of assistance, and they could evaluate the candidates," Florsheim said.

About two years ago, the JFEO decided to shift its focus to helping one or two larger Milwaukee area minority-owned businesses grow, Florsheim said. The business that it is helping now, which he declined to name, did not need capital assistance and the JFEO’s money was not being lended to the people who needed it, he said.

"The idea now is to take this large chunk of capital and give it to WWBIC so they could put it into funding the businesses that could use seed capital and put it to use," Florsheim said. "This is a way for us to get the funds out there and get them into use. For what we’re doing at the moment, capital’s not important. But for what WWBIC does, it is very important."

The new loan within the WWBIC’s portfolio also will help the agency stretch its dollars to the greatest extent, said Wendy Baumann, the WWBIC’s president. "We will keep (the dollars) with the same spirit, lending to minority businesses in Milwaukee," she said. "And the added part is that funds like this can be very helpful when you couple them with the state of Wisconsin’s minority business development loan fund at reduced interest rates. We already leverage the dollars very well – almost one to one, sometimes as high as five to one."

The WWBIC made 82 business loans last year, totaling $6.2 million, and Baumann estimated that the JFEO’s dollars would not be idle for long. "Our dollars can be actively engaged very quickly," she said.

For more information, visit www.wwbic.com.

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