UW-Madison: Student startup aims to lift up Madison community through loans

Contact: Alex Rosenthal, [email protected], (800) 294-7517

MADISON – After learning about how microfinance can increase small business revenue and uplift individuals out of poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Alex Rosenthal knew that something had to be done locally.

“As a freshman, I joined a club that focused on microfinance,” he says. “But after proposing the creation of our own fund, they instead decided to promote microfinance around campus. I did not want to promote, I wanted to act.”

After extensive research of student-run, non-profit organizations around the country and help from his peers, Rosenthal formulated a business model and incorporated The Madison Fund, a fully operating micro-lending organization.

“Microfinance isn’t just about giving someone a loan to do what they have to do,” says UW-Madison junior Andrew Tapper, co-executive director of the Madison Fund with Rosenthal. “We want to make sure our clients are smart about spending properly and have financial guidance.”

Thus, The Madison Fund not only hopes to support entrepreneurs and business owners monetarily, but also on a personal level to ensure that their businesses grow in a sustainable and positive manner.

Along with other UW-Madison students, Rosenthal and Tapper have acted on their business plan by developing workshops, raising capital and maintaining a website for The Madison Fund. The organization is currently fully capitalized on donations.

“Our biggest challenge so far is being taken seriously given the nature of loan distribution,” says Tapper. “This isn’t someone one would expect students to do, but we handle ourselves like professionals and are making local connections in the community.”

The Madison Fund plans to offer loans between $500 and $5,000, with an expected average around $1,500.

Their model of lending out small amounts of money to businesses and citizens in Madison, however, is growing stronger as the organization continues to pursue a reputable presence in Madison.

This semester The Madison Fund extended its first loan to a local man who was interested in applying to become a U.S. citizen. He could not afford to the application fee, however with this financial help, he was loaned the money to cover the fee. The Madison Fund enabled him to submit his application.

According to Forbes Magazine, Madison is the third-best city for young professionals and has one small business for every 48 residents. With its healthy job growth projections, low unemployment, and reasonable cost of living, the city is ideal for successfully sustaining a small business.

With the creation of startups like the Madison Fund, Tapper and Rosenthal say they believe that culture of entrepreneurship will only continue to grow.

“I have always been a strong believer in helping communities through business,” says Tapper. “Helping people get financial knowledge can go a long way.”