BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Wisconsin may not be the first place you think of when it comes to big ideas and entrepreneurs, but the Dairy State has the best survival rate of start-up businesses in the Midwest. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch made that statement at Nicolet College in Rhinelander Tuesday, saying the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) wants to keep that going by awarding nearly $500,000 in grants to support entrepreneur programs. Nicolet College is receiving $27,000 to expand existing proven partnerships in a six-county area.
“Much of the economic growth the state has experienced over the last six years is a result of the efforts of the state’s entrepreneurs as they develop innovative products and services to meet the changing demands of their customers,” Kleefisch stated. “These grants will enable organizations to provide more resources to support that community.”
“A major part of our thought process was to have local groups identify opportunities and solutions for entrepreneurs and their needs in their respective communities,” said Secretary Mark Hogan, CEO of WEDC. “I learned early on in this role that economic development, including assisting start-up and early-stage companies, is most effective when led at a local or regional level.”
Sandy Bishop, Dean of Economic and Workforce Development at Nicolet College said a partnership that began in 2010 with the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VEDC) began offering a 10-week entrepreneur development program twice a year in 2013.
“Since then more than 50 people have completed the program; 26 of them have started or expanded a business,” said Bishop. “The aim is to build upon those successes and take some of the lessons learned and expand into the Nicolet College district.”
The grant money will allow four key strategies to be employed, according to Bishop:
*Strategic partnership development by tapping into local economic development corporations and also grassroots organizations, such as Forward Rhinelander.
*Expansion of the entrepreneurial education and training programs, to possibly include marketing and accounting training and development of a business planning course for people with intellectual and other disabilities.
*Promotion of entrepreneurship through a regional resource network.
*Development of mentoring skills training.
Bishop said part of Nicolet’s success is due to the college’s leadership.
“I think innovation is our middle name and we’re blessed to have the support of a very engaging and dynamic leadership team,” Bishop said. “We’re small but I think that helps us with building partnerships and reaching out and networking with people that can bring resources here.”
“We’re entrepreneurs in Wisconsin,” Kleefisch said. “Especially in rural areas, especially in the Northwoods. Having that pioneer mindset prepares you for a rugged economy but also prepares you for success.”
Because of the partnerships Nicolet has already built, the WEDC’s Hogan said the grant will also hone a best practices model that can be used in other parts of the state.