WEDC entrepreneurship grants bring $90,000 into Madison entrepreneurial community

Entrepreneurship grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are bringing $90,000 into the Madison entrepreneurial community.

The grants, announced Tuesday, will support 11 different organizations in Wisconsin through $500,000 in total funding.

Two Madison groups are receiving funding: the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, $15,000, and the UW Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, $75,000.

According to Aaron Hagar, WEDC’s vice president of entrepreneurship, the timing of these grants coincides with a recent upswell in support for entrepreneurs in Wisconsin.

“We’ve seen big interest in supporting entrepreneurs at the local level,” Hagar said. “It’s about the opportunities, gaps they see in their service area and in their community.”

He says the program helps identify those gaps, and fill them in by supporting “interesting, specific and impactful projects.”

One such project is WARF’s UpStart program, which was started in 2013 to support small business development for women and minorities.

The program is being undertaken in conjunction with UW-Extension’s Small Business Development Center to provide “holistic and well-grounded curriculum,” according to Jeanan Yasiri Moe, director of strategic communication at WARF.

She describes UpStart as a “Business 101”-style experience, that provides “some basic understanding of how to launch a business.”

The course covers things like marketing, getting funding and other financial strategies, as well as providing opportunities to make lasting connections.

“If you’re someone with a great idea, but no boots-on-the-ground knowledge, UpStart is a great experience,” Moe said. “Staying engaged with those folks over time becomes equally critical.”

The curriculum is led by Michelle Somes-Booher, head of the SBDC, who lectures on market research, business models and more. Other instructors for the course come from companies such as Neider & Boucher, BMO Harris Bank and Revelation PR.

While UpStart will use its funds to support expanding curriculum and holding forums, the UW Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic is providing a greater breadth of services in three main entrepreneurial sectors: food and beverage, patent practice and immigrant-owned startups.

According to information from WEDC, funds allocated to the L&E Clinic are projected to help 125 different businesses.

The clinic is partnering with UW-Extension, the Food Finance Accelerator, Slow Money Wisconsin and various commercial kitchens to support training for entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space, who are “underrepresented in our client base,” said Anne Smith, co-founder and co-director of the L&E Clinic at the UW Law School.

She says the clinic was chosen for the award because of its impressive track record of helping close to 1,500 clients since its origin in 2009.

“Over 300 clients are served a year,” Smith said. “We did a study that showed 75 percent of them are still in business; they hire employees and generate revenue.”

As of Dec. 31, 2016, the clinic has been without a staffer supervising student patent work. With the new funds, clinic staff will explore a pilot project in which private practice attorneys on the group’s advisory committee would fill that role.

The process of being selected for WEDC grants was “competitive,” according to Hagar, with the 32 completed applications being scored and reviewed in a multi-stage process. Each applicant was eligible for up to $100,000, and the amount each program is receiving reflects “what they say they can bring to the table.”

“This is a big push,” Hagar said. “It’s something we’re pretty excited about.”

–By Alex Moe