RISE MKE Entrepreneurial Training Program An Award Finalist
Finalist for the Chase Economic Development provides a 14-week training program for entrepreneurs.
Fourteen weeks may not seem like a lot of time — but for entrepreneurs in the African American Chamber of Commerce’s RISE program, it makes a world of difference.
RISE is an entrepreneurial training program designed “to ensure that emerging businesses don’t start blindly,” according to the website. The curriculum is adapted from another minority-serving business training program in Cincinnati called MORTAR. In partnership with LISC Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Urban League, the African American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) is able to provide resources and education to entrepreneurs regarding marketing, branding and business network development.
“The whole goal is to extract or identify entrepreneurs who reside in city neighborhood, provide them with a 14-week training program and surround them with additional resources, such as a business coach, a life coach, facilitators and mentors, to provide them with a well-rounded experience,” Ossie Kendrix, President and CEO of the AACC, said.
“It’s really fitting with the national phenomenon,” he said. “Since 2009, African American women continue to be the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs.”
Currently, RISE is in its fourth and fifth cohort. While each cohort’s capacity is 15 students, the demand is high; when applications were due last fall, there were 53 applicants.
“We had a really good pool of entrepreneurs to choose from for these upcoming cohorts,” Jona Moore, RISE Program Manager, said.
Entrepreneurs can enter RISE with an already-established business or simply with an idea in mind. Throughout the 14 weeks, facilitators — entrepreneurs and professionals who guide the RISE programming — lead sessions on preparing budding business owners for their careers.
“I think RISE providing the infrastructure through the curriculum to aid an African American entrepreneur in solidifying and growing their business gives them a careful understanding of what to expect,” Kendrix said. “So we think RISE prepares them to be in business and for business growth.”
Apart from learning about the gritty details involved in running a business, such as tracking finances, pricing and how to address competitors, the curriculum also focuses on the entrepreneur’s purpose.
“They also have the opportunity to look at their ‘why’ and understand why they’re doing the business they chose to do,” Moore said.
The lessons within the programming are not hypothetical, however. The 14 weeks lead up to a pitch night when the entrepreneurs have the opportunity to showcase their businesses and what they have learned. For some, pitch night offers the chance to collaborate. Tiffany Miller and Lilo Allen, alumni of Cohort 1, pitched an idea conceived by their teamwork.
Entrepreneur Mercedez Butts experienced similar success after her 14 weeks in the program. Butts, who came into the program with the idea for a sober living home for women, was able to lay out the blueprints and execute her vision with the guidance of RISE. She opened her business, called Joyce’s House, just after the 14 weeks concluded.
“She did a grand opening, she found a home, she made partnerships and connections with the city to get women into her program, she got the funding she needed to support what she wanted to do,” Moore said. “She’s currently up and running with employees and with participants, which is amazing.”
Butts said her experience in the program has allowed her to not only gain the skills to help her business thrive but to feel supported by like-minded individuals.
“I gained a family that I never knew I needed until I needed them,” she said. “I would’ve never accomplished what I have without them.”
She emphasized the longevity of the instruction and mentorship that RISE provides and the mindset she gained from the resources.
“The RISE instructors provided a space where failure was a learning curve and not doomsday,” she said. “They taught us how to reframe failure. As a minority, I never experienced that. I was matched up with a mentor who I still have, who has been so supportive during my process.”
Butts said she sees the impacts of entrepreneurship in Milwaukee to not only benefit the entrepreneurs themselves and those whom they directly serve, but the whole community.
“I think that entrepreneurship benefits Milwaukee more than I ever knew now,” she said. “We provide not just jobs, but opportunity to grow in different fields that might’ve not been available years prior. We give Milwaukee a breath of fresh air.”
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