St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care

Entrepreneurs unite to grow business and rebuild a neighborhood

2017 On the Table MKE Focus: “How do we draw out the talent in our community?”
2018 On the Table MKE Goal: “Linking our entrepreneurs on the North Side to entrepreneurial efforts elsewhere in Milwaukee.”

John Jansen thought he knew his work neighborhood pretty well. Understanding and enriching the community is in the job description for anyone working at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care in Bay View and on North Avenue.

Then Jansen was tasked with “super host” duties for On the Table MKE in 2017, which he would host at St. Ann Center’s new campus at 2450 W. North Ave. What he learned about ZIP code 53206 inspired a desire to create an event empowering a North Side neighborhood to unlock its own healing potential.

“The On the Table event prompted a lot of learning for me,” said Jansen, vice president for grants, community and capital development at St. Ann Center. “I read an economic development study that said only 2 percent of 53206 residents work where they live. That’s got to change. Building a business where you live solidifies community, helps people stay there and commit to rebuilding their neighborhood from the inside out so outsiders don’t come in and change it all.”

Research and reality led to one overarching discussion question for St. Ann Center’s Oct. 17, 2017, breakfast meeting: “How do we draw out the talent in our community?”

Phrased as a broad question that encompassed talent of many kinds – musical, artistic, architectural, entrepreneurial – the event introduced Jansen and leaders from the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to a widely and wildly talented group of entrepreneurs. Tables completed a SWOT analysis and discussed the 53206 neighborhood’s need for economic and social healing after decades of entrenched poverty.

“We need money to circulate within this community rather than just going out,” Jansen said.

Enter Monica Hubbard, an entrepreneur and chef who makes puddings, bakeries and other soul-food delicacies. Joe Dupar has a mobile detailing business that comes to your car and cleans it on site. Matt Bohlmann purchased the former Finney Public Library property at the intersection of North Avenue and Sherman Boulevard, which he is transforming into an urban public market.

These entrepreneurs stood on unifying common ground despite different business models. They wanted the best for their community, and they dreamed of taking their businesses to the next level. What they were seeking was additional guidance and camaraderie.

“Looking through the notes after that first event,” Jansen said, “the same questions and challenges kept repeating themselves. Is there a business incubator on the North Side? A shared database for entrepreneurs? What’s missing that prevents us from building a successful community from within?”

Fast forward eight months. What started as an On the Table MKE follow-up session and a Facebook page has become the monthly “First Fridays 4 Business” networking group. North Side entrepreneur Dana Williamson and Jansen are co-administrators, but the eight entrepreneurs who form the core membership also take responsibility to grow their own businesses while expanding First Friday’s influence.

They’re planning a soul food and wine tasting event. Jansen said Dupar will bring his Midwest Mobile Car Wash to the St. Ann Center campus this summer. Administrators are assembling an entrepreneur database and continuing to convene monthly meetings at 2450 W. North Ave.

“There is a wealth of talent in the central city,” Jansen said. “As our President and CEO Sister Edna Lonergan always says, the people who live here and have the talent should be the ones who will change the neighborhood.”