Putting dreams – and small businesses – to work in Wisconsin

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It’s not too often someone can drive down the street – let alone throughout the state — and point to tangible examples of putting people’s dreams to work.

But Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation staff can. The economic development corporation has been doing just that for thousands of women, people of color and low-income individuals for 25 years.

Access to capital can make or break a business owner and providing it is one way WWBIC has helped 1,400 businesses get their start. In 2012, it approved $3.5 million in loans to 126 business owners.

But the reason why WWBIC still exists is it provides much more, said Wendy Baumann, president and chief visionary officer.

"We make it clear we are not just renting money," she said. "We rent money with business assistance and live with these clients through the life of the loan. That is some of the magic and essential formula of our work and what allows us to celebrate 25 years."

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation was one of the early funders to the organization, which got its start after local civic leaders Julia Taylor, Harry Franke, Marty Stein and Margaret Lund learned about Minnesota-based WomenVenture, which provides low-income women and women of color with business education and loans. Inspired by its impact in Minnesota, the group believed the same idea could benefit Wisconsin. WWBIC initially focused on Milwaukee but over the years has grown into its name. It now offers educational workshops, technical assistance, microloans and other resources through Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Kenosha offices.

Since 1988, the Foundation and our donors have provided $460,000 in grants to WWBIC to support its launch and growth as an organization. Grants have supported the expansion of a women’s entrepreneurship program, continuation of an asset building program and development of a revolving loan fund.

An infusion of capital was something W. Early Chang and Noel Ly needed to get the wheels rolling on Tigerbite, their Asian fusion-inspired food truck business in Milwaukee. They met with a number of banks but turned to WWBIC because of the other assistance it offers. The couple received a $65,000 loan toward start-up costs and is now into their third year on the road.

"We wanted to have someone behind us," Ly said. "If you go to a bank, they do the money transaction and that is pretty much it. With WWBIC, we can always reach out to them."

In fact, within a month after closing a loan, one of WWBIC’s four business counselors contacts new clients. Counselors, whom all have small business experience, provide the necessary encouragement, inspiration and resources to help entrepreneurs.

"When you start out, you have to wear all the hats,” said Stacy Zielinski, Tigerbite’s counselor, a former WWBIC client and owner of three Milwaukee businesses. "Having someone there to provide you with direct help or give you resources you need and willing to spend the time is a huge asset."

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budisch-marybeth.jpgTo make a grant to any of these programs, please contact your philanthropic adviser.