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Milwaukee Fund Fuels 100 Black-Owned Businesses

CDFI Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation is piloting the Black Business Boost Program

By Hadassah Patterson

One-hundred businesses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will soon get an independent stimulus thanks to the PNC Foundation’s $600,000 grant for the Black Business Boost program. The program will provide “friends- and family-type capital” to individuals and businesses with a “concept to launch” approach to assistance no matter where they are in their business life cycle — from startup to scaling and long-term sustainability.

The initiative will be stewarded by Milwaukee-based CDFI Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), one of Wisconsin’s first CDFIs. They have lent over $85 million in micro and small loans since 1987, primarily to women, people of color, lower-income individuals and veterans and military-connected families.

“We hope to fully serve 100 Black entrepreneurs and business owners over this period of time – most likely far more too,” says Wendy Baumann, WWBIC president and chief visionary officer.  

The program is the second of its kind funded by the PNC Foundation. The first was a $1.5 million grant in September to community lender Greenwood Archer Capital for a microloan program launched in Chicago, according to PNC Regional Media Relations representative Maria Pasic. The Chicago program is directed to Black and underserved diverse businesses in Chicago’s West and South Sides. Both the Chicago and Milwaukee programs are part of a broader initiative from the PNC Foundation to dedicate $1 billion to end systemic racism and support economic empowerment for Black businesses and underinvested communities. 

The program was launched in collaboration with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. The PNC grant will be dispersed into the Black Business Boost fund at WWBIC over a three-year period. Profits from the investment will be reinvested into succeeding program cohorts and other philanthropic and institutional support to expand the program’s reach.

The need is certainly valid. So far, Baumann noted nearly 500 people have inquired. 

“We hope and believe the Black Business Boost at WWBIC will add additional pillars of strength for a Black entrepreneur as they start or expand their businesses,” she says. The pilot program in Wisconsin looks to fund access to supportive services such as co-working spaces, accelerators and incubators; credit recovery and support; business training; as well as direct micro equity investments and loan support — including technical assistance.

“When you teach a person to fish, they retain a lifelong skill. But if you help them buy a boat and hire a crew, they can then create a long-lasting business and build a legacy of wealth for their family,” Chris Hermann, PNC regional president for Wisconsin, said in a statement.

Repayment terms are intended to be patient and flexible with no repayments required for two years, so that businesses have time to grow, scale and stabilize. This will be followed by a third year of priority returns only — meaning after the third year, the business owner may pay off the investment or convert it to a traditional loan structure for repayment. The idea behind this concept is to alleviate financial burden and stress during the most critical startup and growth phases, when capital and focus can be so critical.

This isn’t PNC’s first investment in equitable opportunity in Wisconsin. The bank has invested more than $27 million this year for economic empowerment, community development and early education in the state. They’ve also partnered with WWBIC before, providing $200,000 over the last decade to support local businesses.

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.