EFund Expansion Sparks Economic Growth in Wisconsin: A Year In Review

February 2, 2024

In 2023, the Entrepreneur Fund expanded its services across 12 counties in Wisconsin’s northern region. The expansion was rooted in our commitment to support rural business and provide access to flexible capital in a traditionally underserved region of the country.

Fueled by the state of Wisconsin, the funds were specifically earmarked for underserved businesses and those hit hard by the pandemic. 2023 kicked off the first phase of a two-phase approach, in which we extended services into Bayfield, Ashland, Iron, Price, Sawyer, Washburn, and Burnett counties.

In our first year, our team partnered with business owners in northern Wisconsin to invest $4.4 million in small business capital and supported 258 businesses with no-cost business advising . The unique combination of financial investment alongside personalized guidance has shown to be most effective in steering businesses towards their milestones and aspirations.

Grant Programs Distribute $262k to Northern Wisconsin Businesses

The two grant programs launched in 2023 have already been felt in communities across northern Wisconsin and will continue into 2024.

Wisconsin Rural Equity Grant

The Wisconsin Rural Equity Grant Program, under the leadership of Martha Bremer, Director of Strategic Partnerships, and steered by a dedicated five-person committee from the target communities, successfully allocated $170,000 in grants in 2023. The committee’s local roots ensure resources meet the unique needs directly.

“Our collective commitment to an equity-centric approach not only addressed traditional funding disparities but cultivated a landscape of opportunity across eight counties and seven Native nations,” said Bremer. “Together, we’re weaving a tapestry of growth and empowerment in the northland.”

Through a competitive nomination process, 18 deserving businesses received grants, ensuring that each county in phase one of EFund’s expanded Wisconsin service area was included. Notably, the program’s impact extended to seven indigenous-owned businesses and three childcare facilities. 44% of grant recipients identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color).

Through a competitive nomination process, 18 deserving businesses received grants, ensuring that each county in phase one of EFund’s expanded Wisconsin service area was included. Notably, the program’s impact extended to seven indigenous-owned businesses and three childcare facilities. 44% of grant recipients identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color).

“I was looking ahead to summer and realized that we would not have enough room to take in all our school age children that needed to enroll.  I did not have the money to rent extra space and make it suitable for the additional childcare needs.  Then I received the email from Entrepreneur Fund about the WI Rural Equity Grant and thought, ‘why not?’ and applied for it.  With the grant money, I will be able to rent extra space for the summer months, repaint, and get the extra shelving, books, and supplies that the school age children will need. This grant will allow parents to stay in the workforce as the childcare shortage in our area puts parents in a place where they must choose one or the other.  I am so very thankful to have been awarded this grant!” – Kristen Strunk, Owner of Cradles to Crayons Preschool and WI Equity Grant Recipient | Spooner, WI

“Looking ahead, our commitment to equity remains unwavering,” said Bremer. “We anticipate the deployment of additional rural equity grants in five northeastern Wisconsin counties and will continue to focus on supporting Native nations. 2024 holds the promise of furthering our mission to cultivate opportunities and bridge gaps across rural communities and we are truly honored to have the opportunity.”

Down Payment Assistance Grant

The Diverse Business Financing Grant program distributed $92,000 in the past year, bolstering its mission to foster financial equity among diverse businesses in northern Wisconsin. This program specifically targets small, historically underbanked, or funding-deprived businesses, such as those owned by women or indigenous individuals. Eligible businesses, established before January 1, 2023, and located within EFund’s expanded region, can receive up to $10,000 in non-repayable grant funding when paired with a low-interest loan. This program is active through 2024, and business owners who are interested can learn more and confirm eligibility by scheduling a 15-minute discovery call with a Wisconsin team member.

Be Strategic & Profit Mastery Programs Support Rural Business Growth

Three Be Strategic courses in northern Wisconsin fostered growth and connectivity among local businesses. With sessions held in Ashland, Hayward, and Spooner, 27 dedicated business owners engaged in a transformative 6-week program aimed at developing robust strategic plans for business expansion.

The program offers a facilitated space where non-competing local businesses collaborate, crafting tailored strategic plans for growth in a supportive group environment. Be Strategic’s success lies not just in the number of participants but in the depth of transformation experienced by these businesses, setting a foundation for sustainable growth and community-driven progress across northern Wisconsin.

In December 2023, an in-person Profit Mastery course in Ashland gained rapid popularity, filling up swiftly. The two-day workshop offers an immersive experience in understanding business finances. With 8 participants, the course equipped them with essential knowledge and skills crucial for achieving financial success in their businesses.

Given the demand for these programs in 2023, additional Be Strategic and Profit Mastery courses will be incorporated into the 2024 calendar to reach more participants.

“As a budding entrepreneur who desires to provide marketing services to my local community, the Be Strategic course was an invaluable tool to help get me started So much of starting a business is learning as you go, and it’s incredibly helpful for someone to provide clear, factual, step-by-step goals to get you there. I really appreciated the transparency from the instructors, the camaraderie in the group, and the actionable goals we set for our businesses. I have now set measurable goals to take my business to the next level, and I have EFund to thank for that.”

– Abby Miller, 2023 Be Strategic Graduate and Owner of Miniver Marketing in Ashland, Wisconsin

Progress Possible through Partnership

At EFund, we recognize that our journey into a new region is not just an expansion, but a fusion of visions and dreams shared with our esteemed partners. This journey, imbued with trust and mutual support, has been nothing short of inspiring.

“In collaboration with our new and current partners, we are working intentionally to become an active part of the small business ecosystem in northern Wisconsin,” emphasized Shawn Wellnitz, Entrepreneur Fund CEO and President. “Together, we are evolving to create a supportive community that recognizes the value of what pooling resources together can do for business owners who have the vision to grow and thrive.”

We extend our gratitude to the local economic development organizations that have been pillars in this expansion across northern Wisconsin. Your unwavering support has been the backbone of our efforts, enabling us to weave a network of grants, programming, accessible capital, and expert guidance. This synergy has not only fostered growth but has also kindled a spirit of prosperity within the region.

Specifically, we’d like to recognize the following organizations for their support over the past year:

As we move into 2024, EFund is set to finalize its expansion by extending services to Vilas, Oneida, Forest, Florence, and Marinette counties. Our commitment remains steadfast in supporting rural and underserved businesses. We’re dedicated to facilitating access to flexible capital and strategic guidance, empowering northern Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute to vibrant rural communities.