Patrick Snyder in October was named president of Milwaukee-based BizStarts, an organization that trains and mentors new entrepreneurs. He succeeds BizStarts founder Dan Steininger, who remains involved as a board member. Snyder joined BizStarts in 2019 as executive director, following a five-year stint as executive director of the Whitewater-based United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. In 2021 alone, BizStarts helped 750 small business owners. Of that total, 92% were businesses owned by people of color, 83% were owned by women and 70% lived in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. In a recent interview with BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Ashley Smart, Snyder shared his vision for the organization moving forward.
What initially attracted you to BizStarts?
“My wife and I moved to Wisconsin to run the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which was housed at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. It is literally the largest organization in the world for faculty that teach entrepreneurship. At that time, Dan (Steininger) had reached out to me, and we basically set up a lunch, and he asked me if I wanted to be on the board. I thought, ‘Yeah, this is an excellent opportunity to be involved in the community that we belong in.’ Fast forward the story to almost four years ago in February; basically, I saw that the board was moving from doing scalable businesses to trying to help more community-based businesses. I got really excited about that. I got a lot of energy because it sounded like businesses just like my mother’s.”
What kind of business did your mother run?
“My mom was 14 when she moved here from Italy. She didn’t know the language, and I would follow her around while people made fun of her accent. At that time, she knew how to do hair, but beauty shops were offering $2.65 an hour to clean the floors. True entrepreneurship is about solving a problem, so she started thinking that way. Basically, there were a lot of slips and falls from people coming out of assisted living facilities. She thought, ‘What if I could just put a (beauty) shop in one of these homes, and then I would be guaranteed customers?’ She ended up signing with five different assisted living facilities and was hiring single moms and things like that. Long story short, in 1974, instead of making $2.65 an hour, she was making $600 to $800 a day. When I thought about (BizStarts), I thought about how there are people in Milwaukee who have capabilities, but they’re not given the chance.”
What is unique about Milwaukee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
“The very honest answer to that question is, in other cities, with entrepreneurship comes a certain amount of carnage. There are ways that you have to hustle. There are ways that you have to compete. You’re clawing your way to the top. Milwaukee is a very good-hearted city. Instead of you clawing your way to the top, there’s a lot of people that lift you up. There are household names in this city, people like the Gardettos and the Marcus family … they don’t want to run for office. They want to help other entrepreneurs because they want to grow the community, not just their own wealth. I think that’s so unique.”
How will BizStarts continue to grow as an organization?
“BizStarts moved intentionally out of Schlitz Park into (St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care-Bucyrus Campus, 2450 W. North Ave., Milwaukee) so we would be in the neighborhood. We just finished our program with the Latino community, which was held at the Farmhouse Paint & Sip on the south side. We’re working with HEAR Wisconsin to create a program in American Sign Language. Another phase of development would be to work with the Hmong Chamber and see if we can’t get this done – like how we just had it done completely in Spanish – within the Hmong community. It’s expanding capabilities to give opportunities to everybody.”
How did you know it was time to step up within BizStarts?
“As an executive director, you never make a decision that you’re going to be president. You work extremely hard, you keep all your promises and one day Frank Cumberbatch, who’s our chairperson, and Ann Hanna, who’s the past chair, tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, we think you’re ready.’ I called all my kids, and we celebrated. It was a very exciting day for the Snyder family.”
What are your immediate goals for the organization?
“What we’re learning is that we have compartmentalized types of business. So, we have food businesses, we have manufacturing businesses, we have companies that sell products to other businesses, and all the different categories require a deeper dive. We’re finding that for a restaurant business, we don’t currently provide instruction on getting licensing or permitting or food safety. If we could do a stage two, like a next level of BizStarts, that would make us more effective. After the first of the year, we will actually have our own store (in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood). I think that nothing connects people like seeing (entrepreneurs) in action. The consumers will make our entrepreneurs more successful. I feel like it’s going to be a magical place.”
What’s the most important lesson you learned from BizStarts?
“I’ve hit my stride, and I’ve found my purpose. This is exactly my calling in life and (entrepreneurs’) businesses should be that also. Their business should solve a problem and they should be so passionate about solving that problem that any other product doesn’t compare.”
What will be your biggest challenge in the next few years?
“There’s going to be a lot of challenges, but challenges in entrepreneurship mean you’re falling forward. As soon as you find a problem, you’re looking for creative and simple solutions to solve that problem. Over the next three years, if we keep growing like we’re growing, we’re going to have 300 to 400 businesses that need to get up and running. Right now, we’ve got a group of student mentors at Marquette University, and they get them through the program steps. How do we get 300 students? How do we get more mentors to help these companies? How do we build capacity on the back-end so we can continue to support these businesses? That’s going to be a challenge, but we’re going to fall forward.”