Governor Scott Walker announced today that five inner-city Milwaukee entrepreneurs will get startup business model training, mentorship, and funding through a seed accelerator program. The new program, called "Revolution Labs," is being launched with support by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) through Governor Walker's Transform Milwaukee initiative.
"Revolution Labs addresses the significant need to develop successful startups in the community in order to reduce unemployment and create an entrepreneurial culture," said Governor Walker. "This program will connect five startups with an experienced team of Milwaukee-based entrepreneurs to provide hands-on business model training and mentorship."
Revolution Labs will be managed by VETransfer, a nonprofit organization that currently runs the VictorySpark accelerator program for veteran entrepreneurs. WEDC and WHEDA are each providing $50,000 to launch the program. VETransfer will provide its nationally recognized program, support the administration of funding, provide mentorship, and offer dedicated space and access to the collaborative community of start-ups at its Milwaukee location.
"WHEDA is delighted to invest in Revolution Labs as part of Transform Milwaukee, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to work with emerging startups to revitalize the economy of Wisconsin's first-class city," said WHEDA Executive Director Wyman Winston. "The entrepreneur seed accelerator will cultivate new companies, new job generators, and begin the process of creating economic prosperity in Milwaukee's inner city."
The pilot program is slated to run June 1 through August 31 with an initial class of five startups from the inner-city of Milwaukee. The VETransfer team is joined by co-founder Justice Shorter, a Marquette University graduate with a specialization in entrepreneurship and president of her own startup company which provides consulting services for non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses. The team is working with its connections in the community, including local minority chambers of commerce, to recruit applicants to the program.
"We believe the best method for changing the economic situation in the inner-city of Milwaukee is to increase the number of high quality startups," said Shorter. "A recent study of the Goldwater Institute found that for every one percentage point increase in the rate of entrepreneurship in a state, there is a two percent drop in that state's poverty rate."
Revolution Labs will implement a curriculum designed around the Lean Startup methodology developed by entrepreneur Steve Blank. The program teaches best practices in launching a business and emphasizes performance milestones throughout the program. Founders will have occasional opportunities to present their startups to potential investors, including a "Demo Day" event near the conclusion of the program.
Each startup that successfully completes the program will receive a $10,000 grant after making a final presentation to Revolution Labs' managing directors and submitting a grant request form.
"WEDC is excited to support the first local seed accelerator program designed specifically for Milwaukee's inner city," said Lisa Johnson, Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. "Revolution Labs is a vital component to advance a culture of entrepreneurship and opportunity for long-term business creation and job growth in the community."
"Transform Milwaukee is about fresh hope for good jobs in a renewed urban economy. It's about transforming Milwaukee into a new generator of small business and employment success, knowing as we do that many of Wisconsin's companies started as one man or woman's raw idea while sitting at their kitchen table or garage workbench," explained Eloise Anderson, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF). "Mentoring and supporting entrepreneurs is about believing in the American dream and backing it with more than just talk."
The seed accelerator model for entrepreneurial development is designed to increase the outcomes for sustainability and growth of startup companies. In a seed accelerator, classes of entrepreneurial teams enroll in a defined program over a certain period of time. Participants are provided with small amounts of financing, experienced hands-on mentorship, educational programming, visibility to investors and other resources, along with processes for market and customer validation, and for developing and testing the commercial viability of an idea.