‘We wanted to do something now’: Greater Milwaukee Foundation offers loans


By Ana Martinez-Ortiz

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation recently launched its ThriveOn Small Business Loan program. (Photo provided by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation)

It is not uncommon for small businesses to be in survival mode before taking the plunge and transitioning into prosperous mode. But the pandemic has made it nearly impossible for some small businesses to survive much less thrive. As many business owners are forced to close their doors, an organization is mobilized.

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation recently announced its intention to help small businesses through its ThriveOn Small Business loans. The foundation plans to provide up to $ 1 million in loans to various businesses located in Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill, with a particular focus on Black and Maroon owned businesses.

“These companies are hurting now, and we wanted to do something now,” said Ken Robertson, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

Qualifying small business owners can apply for a loan of up to $ 50,000 starting Friday, May 7. The loans will carry a fixed interest rate of 2% with no interest or repayment of principal for the first 12 months. The deadline for applications is Friday June 25.

Robertson said the foundation would make its decisions in July and the loans would be disbursed in August. The hope, he said, is that loans to business owners need to sustain their businesses until the pandemic is over and they can focus on recovery.

It has taken a lot for small business owners to support themselves so far, he said. Historically, blacks and Maroons have not had access to capital, Robertson said, and on top of that is the impact COVID-19 has left on the economic environment. People were pushed back, he said.

The neighborhoods the foundation is focusing on have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, Robertson said. If a business does not have access to capital and its customers do not have access to capital, it is often forced to close, he said.

The foundation will prioritize four specific business types: early childhood education, catering and hospitality, retail, and arts and culture.

“These companies have suffered more than most,” said Robertson. “They don’t have the capacity to make that change and go online.”

If a place is under-capitalized from the start, it already has tight margins, he said.

According to the press release, 30% of early childhood education providers in Milwaukee have closed their doors since the start of the pandemic; jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industry are down nearly 17% and arts and culture businesses have lost more than $ 29 million in revenue.

ThriveOn Small Business Loans are part of the foundation’s five-year plan to invest $ 30 million as part of its mission to promote fair economic opportunities in Milwaukee. His other investments include the ThriveOn King building, Gateway Capital, a venture capital fund, and more.

While the foundation’s economic impact is significant, Robertson said it goes beyond the initial investment. The organization wants to offer sustainable programming and create community spaces; he wants to help these neighborhoods regain their strength and flourish.

“It goes beyond the fact that people are going through this year,” he said, there are structural inequalities that need to change. “We hope this will make other people pay attention and understand that this is not fair.”

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation wants to balance Milwaukee’s economy, it wants to rewrite the rules and make them fair and equitable, and it wants others to help them. The group questions the idea of ​​philanthropy and what it means to serve a community.

As Robertson said, the foundation’s only limit is its ability to go out of its own way.

To access the loan application or to learn more about loan eligibility requirements, visit Greatermilwaukeefoundation.org/thriveonloans. For questions about the program, contact Will Martin at 414-350-4207, and for questions about the application, call Terese Caro at 414-343-3091.


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