Torinus (left) and Dan Steininger are co-founders of BizStarts,
a group that promotes regional business development.
group recently received a $200,000 grant from the United States
Department of Commerce.
Just a few years
ago Wisconsin ranked 48 out of 50 states for business start-ups.
Seeing economic growth stalling and unemployment rising, Dan
Steininger, along with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, assembled a
task force to identify new ways to create jobs in southeastern
economy was suffering," says Steininger, a former CEO and
attorney. "We needed to get out and solve the problem."
The task force
concluded that innovation was the solution to kick-start the regional
economy. Soon after, Steininger recruited John Torinus to co-found
BizStarts Milwaukee, an organization committed to accelerating
start-up companies in southeastern Wisconsin. "It’s clear that
entrepreneurship is the best strategy to reinvent our economy,"
says Torinus, CEO of Serigraph.
formed in September 2008, southeast Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial
strategy was fragmented at best. "There was no place for people
who wanted to start a business to turn to," Steininger says.
remedied that by offering guidance to would-be entrepreneurs,
including a support network of more than 2,000 people, and the
necessary tools and resources to launch a new business. "BizStarts
is designed to be a portal to connect entrepreneurs with the resources
they need to get started," says Steininger.
Since the group’s
inception, 43 new high-growth companies have launched, creating more
than 500 new, full-time jobs, according to BizStart Milwaukee’s most
recent Impact Report.
Due to groups
like BizStarts, Wisconsin is climbing out of its bottom-dweller status
for business start-ups nationally, ranking 40th in a 2011 study by the
Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation. While BizStarts hasn’t played a
direct role in all business start-ups in the Milwaukee area, the
organization views itself as a catalyst, serving to inspire, nurture
and celebrate new business endeavors. "Start-up companies are
where most new jobs come from today," says BizStarts Executive
Director Eric Paulsen. "We’re here to smooth the process of
creating and investing in these new companies."
start-up companies BizStarts has helped is HoodiePet, a children’s
clothing company that makes fleece hoodies with detachable,
interchangeable stuffed animals. After some initial success, founder
Louise Kempe turned to BizStarts for direction on marketing and
raising capital. The group connected Kempe with mentor Frank Botto,
president of Florence Eiseman, and the Wisconsin Women’s Business
Initiative Corp. for financing guidance.
BizStarts has been working with is Procubed, a Kenosha-based
engineering firm that is reinventing the manual wheelchair with its
Linear to Rotary Motion conversion technology. The firm has relied
heavily on BizStart’s Venture Track program to develop a business
plan and attract investors.
Although many of
the start-ups BizStarts works with have a technology element,
Steininger says the group is industry agnostic. "We’ll help
accomplishments to date are impressive, Torinus says the group is
still in the early stages of what it hopes to achieve. "Right now
we’re at about one high-grossing start-up business launching per
month," he says. "We’d like to see that double in the next
Further down the
road, BizStarts also anticipates expanding its reach beyond the seven
counties on which it currently focuses.
Madison and Green Bay are on the drawing board," says Steininger.
"We have the infrastructure, so it wouldn’t be hard to
duplicate, but we want to make sure we have a well-oiled machine here
before moving into other markets."