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Milwaukee’s Small Business Support System: Strengths and Weaknesses

According to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report, Milwaukee is home to a strong network of service providers assisting its small businesses. However, it lacks the kind of coordinated supports and philanthropic engagement that benefit entrepreneurs in other large Midwestern cities. The report analyzes Milwaukee’s small business support landscape, identifying both strengths and opportunities for greater effectiveness.

Defining the Small Business Support Landscape

To define the small business support landscape in Milwaukee, the report focused on organizations that are based in the Milwaukee area or have a physical presence there and provide services to at least a portion of the city of Milwaukee. The study included only those organizations that focus partially or exclusively on “Main Street” type businesses or micro businesses with fewer than 10 employees and provide services in one or more of the following categories: business planning, marketing and sales development, operations and technology management, access to capital, and mentorship and peer support.

Key Observations

Through the research, several key observations were made:

Strong Network of Business Service Providers

Milwaukee is home to a strong network of business service providers, with promising efforts underway to foster collaboration among them. The 50 business support organizations identified in the study provide an array of services in Milwaukee, such as training and coaching, assistance in accessing capital, and peer networking opportunities. Local leaders have also noted that Milwaukee’s business support organizations generally collaborate well with one another.

Lack of a “Backbone” Organization

No local organization serves as a “backbone” for Milwaukee’s business support ecosystem. In other large Midwest cities, organizations have taken on clear leadership roles over local business supports. For example, Kansas City’s KCSourceLink functions as the backbone of that area’s entrepreneurship resource network, directly helping entrepreneurs navigate available services while convening service providers and other stakeholders to identify service gaps and develop solutions.

Connecting Entrepreneurs to Services

Getting entrepreneurs connected to business support services in Milwaukee is a key challenge, and the local resource network currently lacks an obvious “front door.” Many local leaders have called for new or expanded efforts to make current and aspiring entrepreneurs aware of and connected to the network of services available in Milwaukee. This may be particularly helpful for reaching those in lower-income Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Capacity Gaps

Capacity gaps exist that limit opportunities for entrepreneurs to access services for their businesses. Services for which local leaders said the need outstrips current capacity include one-on-one business coaching, financial education, and access to capital. Few organizations offer one-on-one business coaching, and capacity is limited. Poor financial management skills among entrepreneurs is another common concern, and although financial education services for entrepreneurs exist, expanded programming could help.

Role of Local Philanthropic Organizations

Local philanthropic organizations could play a bigger role in supporting entrepreneurship in Milwaukee. In Detroit and Chicago, philanthropic organizations have developed funder collaboratives focused on supporting local entrepreneurship services and initiatives. The Community Development Alliance could be a good local model, as its membership includes philanthropic organizations that coordinate their giving to affordable housing strategies and initiatives.


With more focused leadership, coordination, and financial support, Milwaukee’s current small business support ecosystem could become even healthier and achieve greater effectiveness. The findings of the Wisconsin Policy Forum report can help guide efforts to improve the support system for small businesses in Milwaukee and help entrepreneurs in the city reach their full potential.

Orginal article: Link To Article – provided by Kansas City Realtors