Community Leaders Unveil Business Startup Partnership

Mar 29, 2013

Milwaukee leaders plan to engage in an exercise to spur entrepreneurship. Dozens of people packed into a room at the new UWM School of Public Health Thursday, to hear about the plan. Milwaukee would be the first city in the U.S. to test the initiative.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (left) discusses partnership with community leaders.

Julia Taylor cited statistics for those gathered. She’s president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee – it initiated the undertaking. Taylor says there has recently been a huge increase across the U.S. in the number of working age adults running new businesses. She says the GMC wants to foster startups in the Milwaukee area.

“Our approach in developing this strategy will include working with a broad based community of stakeholders from the private, public and education sectors in a manner that best meets the needs and opportunities that exist in our community,” Taylor says.

Among the parties the committee plans to tap are the Water Council and local universities. The person who will lead the initiative is Daniel Isenberg, a professor of entrepreneurial practice at Babson College in Massachusetts.

Isenberg has created a model he calls an entrepreneurship ecosystem to help communities jump start new businesses. He spoke via Skype to Thursday’s gathering. He says he doesn’t yet know much about Milwaukee, but from what he does, it seems like a “natural” for his program.

“My impression is that just one of the assets that I think exists here is the collaborative atmosphere among the various private and public sector groups. I’m not saying it’s a paradise but because I’ve seen other situations that collaboration is not something I take for granted,” Isenberg says.

We spoke with Isenberg to ask about his experience in other countries at creating a nurturing ecosystem. He cites his work in Colombia, adding that its characteristics are fairly typical.

“We’ve been helping to impact the culture, so it’s more ambitious, it’s more risk-taking, it’s more opportunity-seeking. We’ve been helping the banks get more engaged with entrepreneurs. We’ve been changing the attitudes or helping change the attitudes of people in the city. So all of these things are happening in policy and including some improvements in the infrastructure.”

Isenberg plans to visit Milwaukee in April to kick-off brainstorming sessions with community leaders. He says, in a few areas, entrepreneurship happens organically – such as in California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. In other places, growth must happen systematically.

The initiative here brought together oft-political rivals, Gov. Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Barrett. They sat next to each other. Walker says he’s excited about the project.

“Milwaukee is the economic engine of the state. Certainly from a statewide standpoint we want to see that grow. We know one of the best ways to make that happen is to encourage greater entrepreneurship and we know that’s where the net new jobs overwhelmingly are coming from and we want to be at the forefront of that,” Walker says.

Walker says the initiative could help him toward his goal of creating 250,000 jobs by 2014. Barrett says he’s happy to collaborate on economic development.

“Any time I have an opportunity to be able to work with someone, whether it’s the governor, the chancellor or the private sector, I am going to do that,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he hopes the partnership will put a dent in Milwaukee’s unemployment rate. While leaders will meet next month to start shaping a plan, the public will be invited to offer input, at an event on May 6.