Aspiring entrepreneurs filled up on advice and connections—high-octane fuel for startups—at the North Side Business Incubator workshop Aug. 31, at St. Ann Center’s Bucyrus Campus, 2450 W. North Ave.
“It was inspiring to see how many people are committed to starting businesses on the north side,” said John Jansen, Vice President of Grants, Community and Capital Development at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care.“Besides making money, they are dedicated to improving their neighborhood and serving the people who live there.”
The 21 entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to more than two dozen investors, mentors and business coaches at the free event to nurture homegrown commerce for Milwaukee’s 15th Aldermanic District. Ald. Russell W. Stamper II and the Marketplace Business Improvement District 32 co-sponsored the workshop—the third in an ongoing series of business incubators at St. Ann Center’s two-year-old north side campus.
Connections made—both between the entrepreneurs and the business resource people andamong the entrepreneurs—showed how interested people were in each other’s ideas and in exploring ways they might work together, Jansen said, adding that a few set up follow-up appointments to tap each other’s services, he added.
Dana Williamson, working to take her coaching, publishing, film and coffee house business beyond its online presence, said she followed up immediately after the event with connections she made, adding, “I’m doing my homework.”
The workshop kicked off with elevator speeches from the business hopefuls, who each spoke for 3 to 5 minutes. “These entrepreneurs were more passionate than 30 seconds would permit,” Jansen said, referring to the traditionally shorter pitch. The afternoon also included time for one-on-one discussions between entrepreneurs, mentors and investors.
Each entrepreneur had a chance to meet privately with Ald. Stamper to discuss what they needed to start or expand their business. Several are pursuing their ideas as sidelines—most dream of launching full-time businesses. Participants like Monica Hubbard of the Bread Explosion Comfort Cafe came prepared with product samples. Her warm mini peach cobblers didn’t last long. Maurice Sharpe, who was seeking start-up funds, gave potential investors a chance to taste his product—hot chocolate with a caffeine kick.
Response to the incubator was so great that 40 more entrepreneurs have already registered for a second workshop, tentatively scheduled for October. In the meantime, Ald. Stamper will meet with Jansen and Sr. Edna Lonergan, President of St. Ann Center, to determine next steps to help participants turn their ideas into profitable ventures.
Jansen sent out contact information for attendants the next morning so they could continue networking afterward.
“There was so much camaraderie in the room, it was incredible,” he said, adding participants all had one dream in common. “They want to take back their neighborhood and see it grow and prosper. Judging by what we saw today, I’m sure they’re going to do it.”
Entrepreneur Melissa Felix agreed.
Felix aims to grow her business, GGRM, GeeGee’s Junk Removal and Maintenance, beyond debris removal and contracted janitorial property maintenance and on into post-construction cleaning. She said it was a privilege to attend.
“I’m excited to see how we’re each going to grow and assist one another,” she said. “I feel that with all of the talent that was in that incubator, we’re are about to do good things. “