‘Milwaukee Entrepreneurs’ bridges gap

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Photo by Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Entrepreneur Incubation Program

The spring market will take place April 23

A group of staff at the Educational Opportunity Program had an idea of creating three events throughout the semester. Now, it’s becoming a reality. The Milwaukee Entrepreneur Incubator Program’s  purpose is to bridge together the Milwaukee and Marquette community through pop-events, the founders said.

The program was founded by five people from Marquette and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

MKE EIP gives students at Marquette the opportunity to build their entrepreneurial skills through pop-up events, in which they can be student vendors, and mentorship. The goal is for students to impact the Milwaukee community and bring change within their communities. The pop-up events that MKE EIP organizes are primarily on the south and north sides of Milwaukee.

“Our pop-up events really focus on helping students explore their entrepreneurial dreams and wants but also giving them an opportunity to be leaders and have administrative roles behind the scenes and as well as a mentorship component,” Michelle Barbeyto, admissions counselor in undergraduate admissions and budget and operations for MKE EIP, said.

Jeydelyn Martinez, Advanced Opportunity fellow and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and community outreach coordinator for MKE EIP, said that they prioritize students at Marquette that are first generation, low income and/or students of color.

Regarding community partners, they prioritize black, indigenous and people of color, LGBTQ+ and women-owned businesses.

“They bring all their experience on how to make Milwaukee better and to build a stronger community, but don’t always necessarily have the resources, time or support to take those from idealization to fruition,” Stephanie Boedecker, a graduate assistant in the Center of Community Services and program manager for MKE EIP, said.

The student vendor receives $400 to invest in their proposal. MKE EIP also connects student vendors with community partners and organizations.

“This is important to us and a nice part of what we try to do with our students, in particular, build that connection with our community partners. We do have an informal mentorship program, so we asked our community partners if they would be willing to walk students through their journey as an entrepreneur,” Martinez said.

Julie Alemán, a sophomore in the College of Communication, and Wendy Perez, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, are student vendors in the upcoming Spring Market. Their business, Community. Books. YOU. is a nonprofit organization that will officially launch this spring semester. Perez and Alemán said CBY is a resource for students.

“Community. Books. YOU. is a nonprofit organization under Marquette University’s umbrella that lends required Marquette textbooks for free to undergraduate first-generation students,” Alemán said.

Being a student vendor taught Perez about business and how to balance a business with school, extracurriculars and life, she said. Through MKE EIP, Perez and Alemán have a mentorship with the Milwaukee business, La Revo Books.

“The skills that you learn within the pop-up shop like how to talk to people, how to talk to different customers, how to approach them, how to make yourself memorable are all important and are skills that you don’t learn in the classroom. So, really getting that pop-up shop event is amazing,” Perez said.

Perez said that MKE EIP is a great initiative that provides opportunities for minority entrepreneurs on campus.

“I think it definitely fills in a gap that we have on campus because we have a lot of students that are entrepreneurs on campus just doing things on the side and a lot of people that are minorities. This event is targeting those minority groups and really helping them have a collaborative environment/community to express their business, I think that’s really great,” Perez said.

Marc Minani, a graduate student in the College of Business Administration, is a student vendor and his business is Ukuli Chocolate. Minani said Ukuli Chocolate uses ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients, and its mission is to support African cacao farmers and Wisconsin producers.

Minani’s business, Ukuli Chocolates, became reality when he won the 707Hub Brewed Ideas Challenge. Minani said his business is not just about chocolates, but he wants to bring awareness to issues in Africa.

“My inspiration came from the fact that there are still ethical issues in the chocolate value chain where child labor is still a prevalent issue, especially in Africa. As an African native, I really want to change the status quo one farm at a time. Additionally, I want to incorporate the Milwaukee and Wisconsin culture into the chocolate that I make,” Minani said.

Sonia Garcia, research analyst in the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis and the event planning coordinator for MKE IP, and Roy Carlos Avila, IT and data systems coordinator in the Educational Opportunity Program and student outreach coordinator for MKE EIP, are also founders.

The founders said that partnering with the Milwaukee community is important and highlights the Milwaukee residents and businesses that don’t have a spotlight on them and are overlooked.

“Milwaukee is so much more than downtown, and we hope to show students that and invite them out. There’s so much talent in the city, so many gems, and I think there is a hyper-focus on downtown and so our mission is to bridge out and go into other communities that are very much part of Milwaukee and have students be there and meet entrepreneurs, creatives, businesses and organizations,” Martinez said.

April 23, MKE EIP will have their Spring Market. For this market, they are in partnership with Escuela Verde Newline Cafe and Urban Ecology Center. The event is from 12-3 pm at 3628 W Pierce St.

This story was written by Hannah Hernandez. She can be reached at hannah.hernandez@marquette.edu.