Milwaukee entrepreneurship project unveiled

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Plans for a new entrepreneurship project are being unveiled today by the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC). The project is backed by both Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and is being commissioned by American Express Co.

The project, called “OPEN for Enterprise: Coalitions for High-Growth Entrepreneurship” and online at, is based on a model developed by Daniel Isenberg, founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Projects at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. Several Wisconsin organizations will work together with Isenberg and American Express on the project.

“By nurturing an environment for scalable Wisconsin-based businesses, Greater Milwaukee Committee’s partnership with Daniel Isenberg and American Express OPEN will help to support the State’s pledge to bring 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin – one-third of which will come from Milwaukee,” said Walker.

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“We have growing companies that need skilled workers, and Milwaukee residents who need jobs,” said Barrett. “I am proud of this partnership and pleased that Milwaukee is leading the way.”

The project is being commissioned by American Express Co. and its small business service, OPEN, which has supported Small Business Saturday along with other efforts.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a partner in the project, and Chancellor Mike Lovell said Milwaukee has serious potential to prosper, and that this project is a way to realign resources and better organize that potential in order to create a culture of entrepreneurship.

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“Milwaukee is moving toward a tipping point where we’re going to turn a corner on the economy, and what this project does is going to accelerate the inertia toward that direction,” he said.

American Express is putting forth the “lion’s share of the costs,” said Lovell. Sheldon Lubar, founder and chairman of Lubar & Co., and Ted Kellner, executive chairman of Fiduciary Management, are raising local private sector contributions as part of the project as well. Lovell and Lubar visited Babson College last year to learn more about Isenberg’s model.

This is a new initiative for American Express, and it has chosen Milwaukee as its pilot location.

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“American Express picking Milwaukee shows the potential we have,” said Lovell. “They wouldn’t pilot something here if they didn’t think it wasn’t going to be very successful.”

“‘OPEN for Enterprise’ will help communities foster an environment in which growth-oriented entrepreneurial businesses can thrive,” said Susan Sobbot, president of American Express OPEN. “Our ultimate goal is to help empower communities to stimulate economic growth expansion and development through high-growth entrepreneurship in a given locale.”

Early funding will go toward bringing in Isenberg’s team to make the project happen, said Lovell.

The project’s first phase, launching in April and lasting six months, has the goal of “creating a broad awareness among public and private leaders and stakeholders of what to do, a commitment to do it, and a plan of action,” the project’s website says.

Phase one will lead to recommendations made to state and local agencies, at which point the project will move to its next phase, said Lovell.

“At the end of the first phase, we’ll know what we need to do to become global leaders in things we already have a competitive edge in,” said Lovell.

Long-term, the strategy is “to create an integrated effort to simultaneously impact six domains of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Milwaukee: culture, policy and leadership, finance, human capital, markets, and supports,” the project’s website says.

In addition to helping existing companies grow and help start-ups get off the ground, said Lovell, it will also help student ideas like the ones being developed through the Student Startup Challenge.

“If Milwaukee is going to succeed in this project,” said Lovell, “UWM will have to be a major component.”

The OPEN for Enterprise project will be managed by the GMC, which will work closely with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Administration (WHEDA) and UWM.

This project will be the first in the United States to incorporate Isenberg’s model. Isenberg is a professor of management practice at Babson Global (a wholly owned subsidiary of Babson College in Massachusetts), where he established the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project. Isenberg’s project develops innovative growth in a geographic area by joining policies, structures and programs that drive entrepreneurship.

“Forward-looking policy, culture and the private sector are critical for high-growth ventures and can bring extraordinary value to a city,” said Isenberg. “OPEN for Enterprise focuses on scale-ups and a growth mindset to generate significant job growth and create a culture that propels the growth of other entrepreneurial firms to follow.”

The project will officially kick off with a public event featuring Daniel Isenberg on May 6. The event will be hosted by MiKE (Innovation in Milwaukee) at the University Club of Milwaukee, 924 E. Wells St.

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