Milwaukee-based accelerators Victory Spark and Revolution Labs have gone dormant and are not actively seeking funding.
“We’re not doing any veteran projects right now,” said Greg Meier, chairman of Global Entrepreneurship Collective Inc., which operated the programs. “They’re unfunded programs right now. The VA funding ran out quite a while ago.”
GEC was originally called Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer Inc. when it was founded in 2011 with funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Its founding received national attention, since there were no other veteran-focused entrepreneurship accelerator of its kind.
Nick Wickert, who co-founded and served as president of VETransfer, is no longer with the organization. Ted Lasser, another of the original founders who had served as president and executive director, exited the organization in 2012. Meier is now its only employee.
In 2014, GEC received $260,218 in gifts, contributions, grants and membership fees, according to its most recent federal filing. It paid out three $20,000 grants to seed accelerator participants Auditpad Inc., Psyberfire Inc. and Range Tactics LLC. The organization reported $5,188 in net income for 2014.
That’s down from total gifts, contributions, grants and membership fees of $768,735 in 2012 and $683,390 in 2013.
The last Victory Spark class was held in summer 2015, Meier said. That’s when the last veteran-specific grant money was received.
“The game was getting hard to play if you didn’t have access to engineers,” he said.
From 2011 through 2014, GEC had provided grant assistance to more than 49 startup veteran businesses.
After the funding dried up for veteran entrepreneurship programming, GEC participated in other local entrepreneurship programs, including Mid-West Energy Research Consortium’s WERCBench Labs and Gateway Technical College’s Launch Box.
And GEC, located at 140 S. First St. in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, has continued its efforts to help foster inner city entrepreneurship. The nonprofit is now focused on teaching students from inner city schools about technology and entrepreneurship through a partnership with the Young Enterprising Society, which is based in the same space.
“I continue to do work with underserved populations around entrepreneurship, innovation,” Meier said. “Right now, the focus happens to be inner city high school students. The goal is to help them shape up ideas toward starting a business.”
In December, GEC and YES together received a $90,000 grant from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. Using the funds, the organizations have been offering two to three hour workshops for students twice a month for either learning to use technology or developing a business model.
Among the technologies students learn about are drones, 3-D printing and virtual reality devices.
“We encourage them to think about how they could apply those technologies to their school, their community,” Meier said.
This summer, a team of three to five students from each of the participating schools will develop their training and business work further, said Que El-Amin, co-founder of YES. The eight-week program begins June 23.
So far, GEC and YES have reached more than 300 students, El-Amin said. The participating schools are: NOVA Tech High School, Bradley Tech High School, Washington High School, Lad Lake Synergy School, Destiny High School, New Horizon Center, Hopkins Middle School, Vincent High School, AKA Ascend, Shorewood High School, Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning, Escuela Verde, Blessed Savior Middle School and St. Joan Antida.
“If they do launch a business thereafter, that’s great, but it’s about really developing those critical thinking skills,” he said.
“We know that the younger people start in entrepreneurship, the more likely they are to be successful,” Meier said. “We’re all putting big oars in the water to try to change things in our city.”
As for Victory Spark and Revolution Labs, Meier dreams of one day relaunching them, he said.