Sharon Brumfield designs gowns for women to wear to proms and weddings through her business, Designs by Sharon.
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One day at church, Pastor Anthony Burns of Milwaukee’s Jericho Church Without Walls told the congregation, including Brumfield, about the Launch MKE 10-week course for entrepreneurs in low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods.
In December, both Brumfield and Burns, who runs his own business called Jericho Business Incubator, graduated from Launch MKE with new tips about how to grow their companies.
“It really helped me to understand the nuts and bolts of being a business owner financially, tax information,” Brumfield said.
“(The entrepreneurs in JBI) needed something more, so then I’m bringing them in as an incubator and I’m looking for somewhere to funnel them, so now I’m funneling them through Launch,” Burns said. “It gave me a lot of structure. It helped me see a lot of things that’s needed in the business that I didn’t know,” such as the break-even point and knowing his customer base.
Brumfield and Burns were among the first 25 graduates of the Launch MKE program, which along with Milwaukee-based BizStarts was awarded an $80,000 Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. grant this morning. The funding will go toward providing a cohort-based education program and long-term coaching for entrepreneurs in underserved Milwaukee neighborhoods.
“We’re excited about having a great and meaningful impact long-term on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis,” said Jay Mason, president of Launch MKE at the announcement at Schlitz Park.
“We’re not generating enough jobs to fight the helplessness and the poverty in our communities,” said BizStarts president Dan Steininger. “One of the key solutions to this crisis is to help our fellow citizens start businesses.”
WEDC awarded a total of $500,000 in grants to 11 organizations statewide to help develop or expand innovative entrepreneurship assistance programs. Milwaukee’s BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation was the other southeastern Wisconsin grant recipient, with a $65,000 grant for its HATCH entrepreneurial pitch program, which is hosted in cooperation with NEWaukee.
HATCH was launched in 2017 with four pitch events in central Wisconsin. In light of the success of those programs, HATCH will now expand to include contests in three Wisconsin regions, said Tom Shannon, chairman of BrightStar.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch congratulated BizStarts and BrightStar on the awards. While she had her entrepreneur mother as an example of how to start and run a business, Kleefisch said not everyone has that guidance.
“BizStarts is going to be working in some underprivileged areas with some folks who may not be easily connected with the right partners or the right seed capital,” Kleefisch said. “We are excited about these investments because we know they will ultimately lead to new entrepreneurs, but also new employees, workers, new opportunities right here in Wisconsin.”
There were 36 applications for the 11 grants, so it was a competitive process, said Mark Hogan, secretary and chief executive officer of WEDC.
“Economic development is most effective when it’s done and run at the local level. And these are great examples of how we can help,” Hogan said.
The other grant recipients were: Cooperative Educational Service Agency 3, Fennimore, $27,000; Couleecap, La Crosse, $62,000; Green County Development Corp., Monroe, $40,000; Heart of Wisconsin Community Incubator, Wisconsin Rapids, $17,000; Indianhead Community Action Agency, Ladysmith, $41,000; Nicolet Area Technical College, Rhinelander, $25,000; Oconto County Economic Development Corp., Oconto, $43,000; University of Wisconsin-Stout Center for Innovation and Development, Menomonie, $50,000; and WiSolve Consulting Group, Madison, $50,000.