Entrepreneurship is booming in and around La Crosse.
The region has seen nearly 40 startups this year, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Small Business Development Center Executive Director Anne Hlavacka said, an increase of almost 50 percent over the previous year. Area economic development agencies are celebrating the inaugural Wisconsin Startup Week, in part, to keep the momentum going.
On Tuesday, Downtown Main Street celebrated the awards and grant programs it and its partners have been able to provide local businesses to start or grow in La Crosse, and county staff announced a new Launch La Crosse program designed to connect entrepreneurs with resources, support and programs in the region. Other events held during the week highlighted new business owners, included a UW-L business idea competition, and showcased training programs available to those looking to get an edge in bringing a vision to life.
“It is important to make sure our part of the state is shining a light on the startup activity going on here,” Hlavacka said. “This is a great region to start a business.”
La Crosse is one of 10 communities across the state participating in the week, along with Appleton, Beloit, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Stevens Point. The Greater La Crosse Region has a rich history of entrepreneurial success, said Matt Cordio, co-founder and president of the Wisconsin Startup Week initiative.
“Entrepreneurs and their companies are critical to the growth and prosperity of Wisconsin’s economy,” he said. “High-growth entrepreneurship is the leading creator of net new jobs in the state’s economy.”
DMI Executive Director Robin Moses presented two small business awards at the celebration, the Ignite New Business grants and Accelerate Business grants, both of which provide between $2,500 to $500 in funding and other support to the top three applicants. She also highlighted a new grant program that offers up to $20,000 for historic buildings to upgrade their facades.
Altra Federal Credit Union announced a new scholarship program that provides $200 to help those looking to enroll in the nine-week, $1,000 Entrepreneurial Training Program course offered by the SBDC. Moses also spoke of work her organization is doing with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to create a pop-up business grant program similar to one offered in Viroqua that connects empty storefront owners with prospective entrepreneurs.
La Crosse County Community Development Specialist Brian Fukuda presented the new Launch La Crosse initiative to the members of the business community who met for the startup celebration Tuesday morning. Creating a positive environment for entrepreneurs is key, he said, and the program — through its website, launchlacrosse.org — will provide a one-stop shop of information, resources and contacts for those thinking of starting a small business.
Resources on the website include information on funding options, such as the venture capital firm Idea Fund of La Crosse, which is hoping to fund more than a dozen western Wisconsin projects from its $13 million coffers, or other local grant and loan programs. The website can also help those looking for a place a business, such as the business incubator in West Salem, and Launch La Crosse highlights the training and business planning resources organizations such as the SBDC and others offer.
City of La Crosse Economic Development Planner Andrea Schnick shared some of the resources available at the city level, including an upper-floor renovation program for building owners and the city’s small business loan program. She also mentioned a new program in the works for 2018 to provide funding and resources to women- and minority-owned businesses, and said the city and other organizations are always looking for new ideas to help with economic development.
“We are always open to new ideas,” she said. “We can have a discussion on how to fill these gaps in need.”