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Strong Business Support Network in Milwaukee: The Need for Cohesion and Education

Downtown Milwaukee boasts a robust network of organizations that provide essential support to entrepreneurs. However, according to a recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report, there is room for improvement in terms of coordination and education. Let’s take a closer look at the findings and potential solutions.

Current Support Landscape

The report highlights 50 public and private sector organizations in Milwaukee that assist entrepreneurs through training, coaching, and networking opportunities. These organizations provide valuable services, and there are no major gaps in terms of offerings. Nevertheless, the report identifies some key challenges that need to be addressed.

Lack of a “Backbone” Organization

One significant challenge is the absence of a single entity serving as the “backbone” of Milwaukee’s support ecosystem. In other large Midwest cities, such as Kansas City and Detroit, one or two organizations have emerged to take on leadership roles in their local business support ecosystems.

In Kansas City, an organization called KCSourceLink serves as the backbone, helping entrepreneurs navigate resources while convening key leaders and stakeholders to identify service gaps and develop solutions. Detroit has a “funder collaborative” called New Economy Initiative, made up of 13 local and national philanthropic organizations, which serves as a “network steward, convener, analyst, and catalyst” for the city’s entrepreneurship support system.

Need for Better Education on Available Support

Another challenge is the need to better educate entrepreneurs on the available support resources. Local leaders interviewed in the report stressed the importance of making entrepreneurs aware of these resources, especially in lower-income Milwaukee neighborhoods. This could be achieved through the establishment of a “front door” to the support ecosystem, whether through a single organization taking the lead on navigation services (like KCSourceLink in Kansas City) or through other means.

One potential solution is the creation of a business center in the city where multiple business service organizations could provide assistance to local entrepreneurs in one place, similar to the model used by the Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center. This approach could help ensure that business owners receive referrals to other area service providers, regardless of which organization they first contact.

Addressing Capacity Issues in Certain Service Categories

The report also notes that demand is outpacing capacity in a few categories of business support services organizations in Milwaukee. The three types of services most commonly mentioned by interviewees as needing expansion include one-on-one business coaching, financial education, and access to capital. Expanding programming in these areas could be particularly helpful given the common concern of poor financial management skills among Milwaukee entrepreneurs.

Greater Role for Local Philanthropic Organizations

The report’s final key takeaway is that local philanthropic organizations could play a bigger role in supporting entrepreneurs. In addition to Detroit’s New Economy Initiative, Chicago has also developed a “funder collaborative” focused on supporting local entrepreneurs. In Milwaukee, no such collaborative effort currently exists.

One reason for KCSourceLink’s success in Kansas City is its connection to the Kauffman Foundation, one of the nation’s largest philanthropic supporters of entrepreneurship. The report suggests that with more focused leadership, coordination, and financial support from Milwaukee’s philanthropic organizations, the city’s small business support ecosystem could become even healthier and more effective in addressing the varied needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs.


Overall, Milwaukee has a strong network of business support organizations, but improvements can be made in terms of coordination and education. By addressing these challenges, the city’s small business support ecosystem could become even more effective in helping entrepreneurs succeed. By learning from successful models in other cities like Kansas City and Detroit, Milwaukee can further bolster its support network and help its entrepreneurs thrive.

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