Seventeen small businesses receive loans from Foundation

Investment helping build back jobs, economy in Black and Brown neighborhoods

For the 17 recipients of ThriveOn Small Business Loans from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, access to new capital is offering the opportunity to reopen, hire or sustain or improve business operations in a variety of ways. Approximately 40 jobs are expected to be created or re-established.

The Foundation has rapidly deployed a total of $780,000 in low-interest loans with favorable terms, ranging in amount from $25,000 to $50,000, to small businesses in Milwaukee. Nearly 80 percent of the businesses are located in the Halyard Park, Harambee and Brewers Hill neighborhoods associated with the ThriveOn Collaboration, and all are owned by people of color.

“Thriving neighborhoods rely on thriving small businesses for employment, for accessible products and services, and to attract economic activity and momentum,” said Kenneth Robertson, Foundation executive vice president, COO and CFO. “The Foundation is well aware that Black- and Brown-owned businesses already face systemic barriers to accessing funding, so when we saw the disproportionate impact the pandemic was having on small businesses in Milwaukee neighborhoods, we knew we had to think different and act quickly. We’re glad we were able to mobilize these dollars as a form of relief and potential growth for owners in our community.”

ThriveOn Small Business Loans in the news

The Foundation’s program has made more than a few headlines in recent months. Here are some highlights:

Helping sectors with acute need

The Foundation launched the small business loan program in May to help fortify the economic backbone of local neighborhoods, especially in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. Of those approved for funding, 28 percent are in retail, 24 percent are specialty businesses, 18 percent are in the restaurant or food industry, 18 percent are in commercial real estate and 12 percent are in health care. (A full list of recipients appears at the bottom of this release). Half of the businesses were temporarily closed at the time of application. 

The loans can be used for working capital and normal operating expenses, improvements to physical locations or refinancing debt, supporting such areas as business stabilization and staff growth. Recipient businesses project to increase employment over current levels by virtue of returning to pre-covid staffing, new hires and reopenings.

As an added benefit, the ThriveOn Small Business Loan program is pairing ongoing technical assistance with its funding. Program participants will be able to access support in areas such accounting, cashflow management tools and related technology that could further advance businesses’ long-term success.

Exhibiting a personal touch

Maintaining a community-centered approach for the program has included personal outreach to neighborhood business owners to raise awareness of the program and answer questions. The team identified over 150 potentially eligible businesses in Halyard Park, Brewers Hill and Harambee, and then hosted community meetings and events, went door-to-door, and communicated through phone and email to reach owners. Ultimately, 33 applications were received with 17 closing on their loans.

“The ThriveOn Loan was just the boost that I needed to spring forward with Vogue Dreams,” said Tonda Thompson, owner of Vogue Dreams, a Milwaukee media and talent business. “Since receiving the loan, I have updated my equipment and my bookings have doubled. I am now able to hire help and get jobs completed. Thank you GMF!” 

Economic inclusion through investment

The ThriveOn Small Business Loans are part of a five-year, $30 million commitment to advancing equitable economic opportunity through the Foundation’s impact investing program. The Foundation leverages impact investing to advance racial equity and economic inclusion through programs, projects and businesses that generate a social and financial return.

Past and current impact investments have supported entrepreneurial growth, job creation and commercial redevelopment, attracting additional external investment in the process. Inclusive of the Foundation’s $10 million investment in the ThriveOn King building – its future home – the program has put over $12 million to work in the community so far.

“Our generous donors have played a key role in making the ThriveOn Small Business Loans possible, committing over $500,000 to the effort,” said Ellen Gilligan, Foundation President and CEO. “Overall, the Foundation has received more than $1.4 million for its impact investing program. This level of partnership demonstrates our shared values and collective interest in reimaging philanthropy to realize a thriving Milwaukee for all.”

  • Ajas Beauty and Wellness Boutique
  • Bijou Nails & Company
  • Colorful Connections
  • Cool Beauty
  • Cream City Print Lounge
  • Dolled
  • Edwards Ingenuity
  • Ilashout Beauty Co.
  • JGSJ Optimum Health
  • Maures Development Group
  • MLK 1920
  • P3 Development Group
  • PepperPot CateringMKE
  • Rise & Grind
  • Santari (Reynolds Pasty Shop)
  • Transformation Services, Inc.
  • Vogue Dreams