Message from the community: $ 1 million in small business loans from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation


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To help fortify the economic backbone of local neighborhoods, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is mobilizing $ 1 million in low-interest loans to support small businesses in areas constrained by the pandemic. The Foundation’s ThriveOn Small Business Loans will be available in the northern neighborhoods of Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill, with a focus on Black and Maroon-owned businesses.

Starting May 7, eligible business owners can apply for a loan of up to $ 50,000 at a fixed interest rate of 2%, with no interest or principal repayment for the first 12 months. The proceeds can be used for working capital, normal operating expenses, heavy debt refinancing and more.

“For many small businesses – and the people they employ and serve – access to capital is extremely urgent at this time,” said Ken Robertson, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of the Foundation. “COVID-19 has dramatically reduced revenues, and black and Maroon-owned businesses, which have previously faced systemic barriers to investment, are at particular risk of shutting down. The toll of such losses on the fabric of Milwaukee neighborhoods and entrepreneurs would be devastating. We expect our ThriveOn loans will support at least 20 small businesses this year as we intentionally work to make Milwaukee’s economic recovery fairer.

Focus on hard-hit industries and communities of color

A recent national survey indicates that 75% of all small businesses remain concerned about the impact of the virus on their business, a number that climbs to 86% among business owners of color. At the height of the pandemic, 41% of black-owned businesses closed, the highest rate of any racial group, and many remain at risk.

To avoid future closures, Foundation loans prioritize for-profit businesses in four specific sectors:

  1. Early childhood education, where 30% of Milwaukee providers have closed since COVID-19 began.
  2. Foodservice / hospitality, where industry-wide jobs remain down almost 17% from pre-pandemic levels.
  3. Retail, where COVID-19 has profoundly exacerbated the challenges already faced by local physical stores.
  4. Arts and Culture, where arts organizations in Wisconsin have reportedly lost more than $ 29 million in revenue.

How to Apply for a ThriveOn Small Business Loan

Prospective applicants can access the loan application starting May 7, as well as to learn more about eligibility and loan terms, at The deadline to apply is June 25, 2021 and disbursements will start in August 2021.

For any questions about the program, companies can contact Will Martin at 414-350-4207. Questions relating to the request can be directed to Terese Caro at 414-343-3091.

Impact investing for economic inclusion

ThriveOn Small Business Loans are part of a five-year, $ 30 million commitment to promote fair economic opportunities made possible through the Foundation’s Impact Investing program. Through impact investing, community foundations can leverage their financial assets to deploy additional capital in the community for social purposes, and as dollars are returned they can be reinvested in new projects. It can take many forms, from patient loans and loan guarantees to venture capital and real estate.

Since its engagement in early 2020, the Foundation has invested over $ 12 million through its Impact Investing Program – $ 10 million has been spent on the ThriveOn King Restoration and Renovation Project, and 1 million dollars has been invested in Gateway Capital, a venture capital fund that will support pre-income start-ups in Milwaukee. The Foundation also used the program to secure $ 800,000 for a catalytic redevelopment of what is known as Travis Block, a project led by Near Westside Partners.

These impact investments follow on from the Foundation’s $ 1 million pilot program, which ended in 2019 and has helped grow 47 new small businesses, create more than 85 jobs, and redevelop ‘commercial spaces and attracting $ 4.9 million in additional public investment to local communities. neighborhoods.

“For Milwaukee’s economy as a whole to thrive, black and brown owned businesses must thrive, but with the pandemic amplifying existing racial inequalities, many are fighting just to survive,” said Ellen Gilligan, president. -director general of the Foundation. “Since we know that structural racism makes it harder for black and brown businesses to receive capital, we can help address a need unmet by traditional lenders. This loan opportunity is a reimagined form of philanthropy that meets the community it is in and aims to stabilize lives and livelihoods, bringing us closer to becoming a Milwaukee for all.

About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is the largest community foundation in Wisconsin and was one of the first in the world. For over a century, the Foundation has been at the heart of the civic community, helping donors achieve the greatest philanthropic impact, elevating the work of change makers in neighborhoods, and bringing people and organizations together to help our region to prosper. Racial equity is the North Star of the Foundation, guiding its investments and strategies for social and economic change. Leveraging generations of community knowledge, cross-sector partnerships and over $ 1 billion in financial assets, the Foundation is committed to reinventing philanthropy, refocusing communities and redesigning systems to transform our region into a Milwaukee for everyone.

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