WisBusiness: Commerce secretary touts shift in approach to minority business

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – The state has changed its approach to minority business development to better leverage the various efforts already in place, and to build new ones, according to Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Cory Nettles.

In a session called “Upbeat Uptown: Starting a Business in the Inner City,” Nettles told Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference participants, “For far too long too much talent has been on the sidelines.

“At the Commerce Department, we are trying to leverage resources in better and smarter ways.  We are significantly accelerating minority entrepreneurship efforts.”

Nettles said the state is trying to centralize certification for minority businesses, which often have to deal with a maze of certification processes at multiple levels of government.  “We want to create a one-stop shopping process,” he said.

High minority participation goals are being set for the Marquette Interchange project and other public works projects, Nettles said.  The state also is working to improve access to capital for inner city entrepreneurs.

Art Smith of the Initiative for a Competitive Milwaukee said better coordination by the state is very needed, and added the current efforts excited him.

Smith said his group has identified four potential growth clusters in the inner city of Milwaukee:  construction and development; manufacturing retention and renewal; health services and business process service centers.

“We need technical help in these areas and most importantly capital.  When I first bought two Burger Kings years ago, there was no venture capital here.  I had to go to Chicago.  That needs to change,” Smith said.

Mark Burwell of the Urban Hope Entrepreneur Center spoke about some of the efforts in Green Bay and elsewhere to work with minority entrepreneurs.

Burwell said adherence to a plan and innovation were two keys to entrepreneurial efforts in inner city areas.

In the breakfast session on Wednesday, Juanita Koilpillai documented how she moved from “drive and cockiness” to “drive and humility” in building Mountain Wave, a security systems company that she eventually sold to Symantec for $20 million.

She listed 10 lessons she learned on the journey.  They included establishing clear goals and a vision for a company, seeking experienced and solid advice, having controls in place while also encouraging creativity, hiring a good management team and in the end being willing to “walk away from everything” if you do get a buyout offer that you like.

Jim Rygiel, who won an Oscar for “Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King,” was schduled to be the luncheon keynote speaker at the conference Wednesday. In the evening, Gov. Jim Doyle will present the first annual Governor’s Business Plan Awards.  Winners of the awards will be posted at 8 p.m. tonight at WisBusiness.com.