WWBIC Growth Accelerator providing entrepreneurship training in Sturtevant

WEDC funds resurrect Launch Box program

Alex Upendo, center, of Build-a-Bow won the Launch Box pitch competition in 2017.

When Gateway Technical College announced in August that it would close its Launch Box co-working space in Racine by the end of November, Launch Box director Thalia Mendez sought out alternative avenues to provide entrepreneurship training in the area.

Mendez, second from left, with a cohort of Launch Box entrepreneurs at their pitch competition in 2017.

She partnered with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., which secured an $80,000 matching grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to keep the programming going in a new form: the WWBIC Growth Accelerator.

Launched last week, the first cohort of the 10-week accelerator class has five entrepreneur teams who will pitch their businesses at Demo Day on Feb. 14 from noon to 2 p.m. at Gateway’s SC Johnson iMet Center in Sturtevant. Mendez is keeping their identities under wraps until that day.

Mendez leads the classes mainly at the iMet Center. The program is aimed at entrepreneurs in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties.

“It’s really exciting that WWBIC was able to keep this going, because Gateway got out of the entrepreneurship community and I went to Wendy (Baumann) and said, ‘What do you think?’” Mendez said. “The mentors, everybody is really happy to see that it’s continuing.”

Baumann, president and chief visionary officer at WWBIC, was on board.

Wendy Baumann
Credit: Kat Schleicher Photography

“We’ve been a strong partner in numerous accelerators, specifically the one that Thalia was engaged with with Gateway,” Baumann said.

The accelerator provides avenues to growth for small businesses, microbusinesses and Main Street entrepreneurs, she said. And Mendez is certified as an accelerator facilitator.

“We felt that there was a gap there. We were worried about clients we were working with not having access to something like this,” Baumann said.

The WWBIC Growth Accelerator will help teams develop their business models by conducting consumer testing, gathering customer input, receiving mentorship and meeting with potential investors, according to the WEDC.

The Demo Day will be a friendly pitch event to review the progress entrepreneurs make in the program, Baumann said. And entrepreneurs will receive a seed grant of between $2,500 and $5,000 to help them on their way.

“At WWBIC, we don’t like the term ‘shark tank.’ We use the term ‘dolphin pool,’” she said.

“The state has a significant interest in supporting entrepreneurship and the development of new businesses for the purpose of long-term economic growth,” said Aaron Hagar, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for WEDC, in a release. “Under the leadership of WWBIC, this accelerator program will play a critical role in filling funding gaps and providing startups with the technical and financial assistance they need to become successful.”

Another cohort of the WWBIC Growth Accelerator is set to begin in January. WWBIC is working to raise matching funds for the $80,000 grant from WEDC’s Seed Accelerator program, and hopes to offer the program quarterly in 2019, Baumann said.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.