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Madison Black Chamber looks to put more than 100 businesses through new incubator, accelerator

Camille Carter speaks at a Happy Hour event introducing the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce’s incubator an accelerator programs. Photo courtesy Dan Guerra.

The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce is looking for entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses ready to grow to join its new incubator and accelerator programs.

The program grows out of the “Black Capitalism” webinar series that investor and financial adviser Robert Wynn offered MBCC members in 2020 and the Black and Brown Entrepreneur Center, an incubator MBCC ran in 2021 with funding from Dane County.

Camille Carter.

“That was a very successful program,” said MBCC president Camille Carter. “The entrepreneurs left wanting more additional support.”

That additional support will come in the form of an intensive 12-week accelerator program and a month-long incubator program, both of which are open to applications now. 

Organizers said they hope to put more than 100 businesses through the accelerator program over the next 18 months.

“We have audacious objectives for the program,” Carter said. “It’s been almost three years in the making.”

With Diverse Business Assistance Grant funding from the start Department of Administration, MBCC has contracted with GHW Capital Partners to design and run the program. The G, H and W are the initials of names familiar to many in the Madison entrepreneurial community: ArgusX Partners and SDM Analytics CEO Dan Guerra, Mighty Digits chief of staff Justin Hajny and Wynn, founder of CLIMB USA and longtime venture investor.

“This is a passion project for me. I love being an entrepreneur, and it personally pains me to see other entrepreneurs struggle,” Guerra said. “Most businesses are underfunded, or undercapitalized, and I think that’s even more true with minority entrepreneurs.”

“Camille has been wonderful,” Guerra added. “She’s really shaped (the program) and told us we have to deliver a program and accelerator program that is hands down, different from anything that exists in the market.”

Part of what differentiates MBCC’s accelerator will be deeply discounted access to business services like marketing and legal consulting, graphic design and financial services for up to two years.

Guerra said program staff will help entrepreneurs decide whether the incubator or the accelerator is the right path for them.

Robert Wynn.

“Think of an incubator like the back of the napkin. We want to figure out, do we really have a business idea here?” Guerra said. “And then the accelerator here is actually not like a traditional accelerator, but an accelerator really focused on existing businesses that are local or regional in scope and focus. The idea is to make sure that businesses, specifically Black and other BIPOC businesses are not just surviving, but figuring out how to make sure that they’re thriving. We’ve developed a 12 week program to essentially make them loan or investment ready, really put them on a path for growth.”

Businesses that participate in the accelerator will be given membership in the MBCC for one year, and will be expected to become paid members for the second year to continue to access shared services. 

“We are not just intensely working with folks for 12 weeks. We are doing it for two years,” Guerra said. “This isn’t just about venture capital. This is about making sure that we’re building stable businesses.”

Guerra said businesses located anywhere in southwestern Wisconsin – Dane County and all points west, and generally south of Wisconsin Dells – are eligible.

“Over the 12 week process, we’re going to really work to make sure that we’ve got a strong understanding of their numbers, that we understand what marketing looks like, what sales looks like, what traction looks like, how to select software to grow your business, how to put processes in place to support the growth of your business,” he said. “The goal of this is not just of not just going through a program to say we checked off a box and did a program is we are in active conversations right now with both (Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation)  and Madison Development Corporation to get you ready to be able to have some financing in place.”

The program will also help founders improve their personal credit scores, which can unlock additional funding opportunities.

Dan Guerra.

“It’s a dirty little secret out there that if you don’t have a 700 credit score, you’re not going to qualify to get a Small Business Administration Loan or to have an SBA guarantee,” Guerra said. “We ask (accelerator participants), will you participate in credit counseling? Will you share data with us so we can figure out how to help you?”

“Our mission is to build community around business owners such that they’re getting what they need in order to be successful, to dream bigger, to plan bigger, to really plan on a solid financial platform that will help them grow their business,” Carter said.

But it goes even beyond those businesses that enter the programs.

“I think the ripple effects are pretty infinite,” Carter said. “When you have strong minority owned businesses, it really makes the overall community just a better place. It brings diversity, it brings generational wealth, it brings strong Black businesses. Madison is a great community for families to live and it’s also, we believe, a very great community for businesses to start, run and grow. That’s what we are developing and creating here and investing in. And we know that the long term gain will just be enormous.”

Businesses, founders and aspiring entrepreneurs can apply for the incubator and accelerator programs at https://apply.mbccmeansbusiness.com/.