Report: Milwaukee’s small business ecosystem is health but could be better with leadership, coordination and financial support

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Starting a small business can seem intimidating to some, but Milwaukee County has a strong support system in place to help those willing to try their ideas on the market. But there are some gaps in mentoring and leadership that can hinder growth. According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

The report found that Milwaukee County has approximately 13,200 businesses with 10 or fewer employees and nearly 6,000 businesses with 10 to 99 employees.

From 2012 to 2020, the number of small and micro businesses in Milwaukee County grew 2.7 percent. Some of the areas with the fewest businesses in the county are downtown, the Historic Third Ward and the Wauwatosa area.

Here are some other interesting images from the report.

Milwaukee has 50 small business support organizations

The city has at least 50 Small Business Support Organizations (BSOs) made up of for-profit, non-profit and government organizations that help start-up companies. Most capital, grants, mentors, networks, and some offer each of these benefits to their members.

“Overall, there appears to be a sufficient number of service providers and no major types of service are available but not fully available,” the report said.

“In our interviews with local leaders, we heard that Milwaukee’s BSOs generally work well with each other, and that many have established formal and informal relationships with other organizations in the area for referrals or programming or combining services. Gathering groups.

Lack of leading organization

Each BSO operates independently and cooperates.

The report points to KCSourceLink in Kansas City and the New Economy Initiative in Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, which connect small businesses to resources and bring organizations together to solve problems facing entrepreneurs.

“It may be beneficial for an organization to take the lead in navigation services (as KCSourceLink has done in Kansas City) or otherwise establish some ‘front door,'” the report said. “One option is to establish a business hub where multiple BSOs can provide seamless assistance to local entrepreneurs in one place.”

Leaders interviewed for the report also said there is a need for a “no wrong door” approach that ensures business owners can get referrals to a wider network of services no matter which group they come to first.

Capacity gaps limit opportunities

While the report does not identify major gaps in support service delivery, “interviewees identified several types of services for which local demand exceeds current capacity. The three we heard most consistently were one-on-one business training, financial education, and access to capital.”

“Poor financial management skills among entrepreneurs in Milwaukee is another common concern, and although there are some financial education services for entrepreneurs, expanded programming could be helpful,” the report states. “One option to increase access to financial training is to train UEDA’s (Urban Economic Development Association) Financial Health Counseling Program specifically for individuals who work with entrepreneurs and small business owners.”

Access to capital is the lifeblood of business. There are many community development financial institutions that work directly with small businesses, but more is needed.

“The city’s CDFI network is considered by many to be a strength of the local ecosystem, but some leaders we spoke to said more capacity is needed to meet the needs of individuals working to grow small businesses.

Charitable organizations can be of great help to small businesses in Milwaukee.

Cities like Detroit and Chicago have formed local partnerships to provide financial support to small businesses and further develop the economic ecosystem in their cities.

“There is no such collaborative effort for entrepreneurship in Milwaukee,” the report says.

But the Community Development Partnership can be a model for providing affordable housing strategies, as the organization has a number of charitable organizations.

“A similar integrated approach to funding business support services in Milwaukee would help expand essential services and create greater collaboration across the ecosystem,” the report states.

Conclusion of the report

Private and public sector stakeholders are working to improve and grow the small business community in Milwaukee. However, there is room for improvement.

“Our research suggests that with more focused leadership, coordination and funding, the city’s existing small business support ecosystem could be healthier and more effective in addressing the diverse needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs,” the report states.

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