Que and Khalif El-Amin have been entrepreneurs since 2012 with their multi-faceted company, Young Enterprising Society.
But they noticed a lot of the entrepreneurship training organizations in town didn’t cater to Milwaukee residents. So they started their own.
The brothers launched The Blueprint in Milwaukee’s central city in July 2018 to target entrepreneurs in the City of Milwaukee with an idea or a startup related to technology, advanced manufacturing or e-commerce. They have been inclusive of entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, and have based the program in an underserved central city neighborhood.
“Entrepreneurship is the only way that we’re going to be able to revitalize Milwaukee,” Que said. “The big corporations aren’t coming back to Milwaukee, not in the grand scale of the industrial age, so we have to foster more entrepreneurs to be able to provide employment.”
For their efforts to revitalize Milwaukee’s central city, Que and Khalif El-Amin are the 2019 BizTimes Regional Spirit Award winners. They will be honored at the Bravo! Entrepreneur & I.Q. Awards luncheon during BizExpo at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino on May 30.
The Blueprint begins with a three-day business bootcamp, and then the field is narrowed to fewer companies, who participate in Cultivator 1. The 12-week program culminates in a Demo Day pitch competition, with seed funding distributed to 10 of the companies that complete the program.
With one cohort of the entrepreneurship accelerator under their belt, the El-Amins have now started a secondary program to continue the entrepreneurial education for Blueprint alumni and more developed companies, dubbed Cultivator 2.
The El-Amins bring in successful entrepreneurs and investors from the community to teach some of the classes, which cover topics including: how to build a profitable business, how to position your business to raise capital, how to write proposals, and how to deal with the psychological effects of being an entrepreneur.
“We provide when they’re getting started, just a safe environment for them to work in with the tools that’s necessary,” Que said. “But we want you to grow and expand to where your business can’t fit inside this building.”
The pair, who grew up partly on Milwaukee’s north side, started Young Enterprising Society after Que graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Khalif from UW-Stevens Point two years later. It was originally a social outlet for young professionals, and the El-Amins intentionally hosted events at exclusive Milwaukee nightclubs that didn’t traditionally welcome people of color, they said.
“A lot of it had to do with us coming back from Stevens Point and UW-Madison respectively, just hanging out with all different type of cultures, a little bit of everybody, and then coming back here and then it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re black, then you’re going to hang out on the north side, if you’re white then you can hang out downtown, if you’re Hispanic then you hang out on the south side,’” Que said.
Eventually, the entrepreneurial pair decided to transition from parties to more productive activities, including small business consulting, clothing lines, philanthropy and urban agriculture.
The brothers are relentlessly positive and, with a mental health therapist mother and nonprofit leader father, are hard-wired to help others.
Khalif remembers their father, New Horizon Center Inc. chief executive officer Saleem El-Amin, frequently saying, “You learn, you earn and you return.”
“I knew there was a need within the city that had given me so much,” Khalif said. “I wanted to give back.”