Black- & Brown-owned businesses in Harambee, Halyard Park, Brewers Hill prioritized

Milwaukee, Wis., May 4, 2021 – 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 sectors under significant duress from the pandemic. The Foundation’s ThriveOn Small Business Loans will be available in the north side neighborhoods of Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill, with a focus on Black- and Brown-owned businesses.

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

“For many small businesses – and the people they employ and serve – access to capital is extremely urgent right now,” said Ken Robertson, executive vice president, COO and CFO of the Foundation. “COVID-19 has severely constricted revenue, and Black- and Brown-owned businesses, which already faced systemic barriers to investment, are at particular risk of closing. The toll of such losses on the fabric of Milwaukee neighborhoods and entrepreneurs would be devastating. We anticipate our ThriveOn loans will support at least 20 small businesses this year as we work intentionally toward making Milwaukee’s economic recovery more equitable.”

Focusing on hard hit industries and communities of color

Recent national polling indicates 75% of all small businesses remain concerned about the virus’s impact on their business, a number that rises to 86% among business owners of color. During the height of the pandemic, 41% of Black-owned businesses closed, the highest rate of any racial group, and many remain at risk.

To avert future closures, the Foundation’s loans are prioritizing for-profit businesses in four specific sectors:

  1. Early childhood education, where 30% of providers in Milwaukee have closed since the onset of COVID-19.
  2. Restaurant/Hospitality, where jobs statewide in the industry remain down almost 17% from pre-pandemic levels.
  3. Retail, where COVID-19 deeply exacerbated the challenges already faced by local brick-and-mortar shops.
  4. Arts & Culture, where Wisconsin arts organizations are estimated to have lost more than $29 million in revenue.

How to apply for a ThriveOn Small Business Loan

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

For questions about the program, businesses can contact Will Martin at 414-350-4207. Application questions can be directed to Terese Caro at 414-343-3091. 

Impact investing for economic inclusion

The ThriveOn Small Business Loans are part of a five-year, $30 million commitment to advancing equitable economic opportunity made possible through the Foundation’s impact investing program. Through impact investing, community foundations can leverage their financial assets to deploy additional capital into the community for social benefit, and as dollars are returned, they can be reinvested in new projects. This can take multiple forms, from patient loans to loan guarantees to venture capital to real estate. 

Since making its commitment in early 2020, the Foundation has invested over $12 million through its impact investing program   ̶ $10 million of this was directed to the ThriveOn King restoration and renovation project, and $1 million was invested in Gateway Capital, a venture capital fund that will support pre-revenue start-ups in Milwaukee. The Foundation has also used the program to guarantee $800,000 for a catalytic redevelopment of what is known as the Travis Block, a project led by Near Westside Partners. 

These impact investments followed the Foundation’s $1 million pilot program, which concluded in 2019 and contributed to the growth of 47 new small businesses, the creation more than 85 jobs, the redevelopment of commercial spaces and the attraction of $4.9 million in additional public investment to local neighborhoods.

“For Milwaukee’s economy as a whole to thrive, Black- and Brown-owned businesses must thrive, but with the pandemic magnifying existing racial inequities, many are struggling just to survive,” said Ellen Gilligan, Foundation president and CEO. “Since we know structural racism makes it harder for Black and Brown businesses to receive capital, we can help fill a need not met by traditional lenders. This loan opportunity is a reimagined form of philanthropy that meets the community where it is 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 Wisconsin’s largest community foundation and was among the first established in the world. For more than a century, the Foundation has been at the heart of the civic community, helping donors achieve the greatest philanthropic impact, elevating the work of changemakers across neighborhoods, and bringing people and organizations together to help our region thrive. Racial equity is the Foundation’s North Star, guiding its investments and strategies for social and economic change. Leveraging generations of community knowledge, cross-sector partnerships and more than $1 billion in financial assets, the Foundation is committed to reimagining philanthropy, recentering communities and remaking systems to transform our region into a Milwaukee for all.

For media inquiries

Please contact: Jeremy PodolskiMarketing and Communications Manager