UWM’s new business incubator offers free help for maturing startups

“One of most difficult things you can decide to do, I think, is to start a business,” said Steve Glynn, CEO of the four-year-old startup Experience Milwaukee. “There’s a lot of trust that has to be built.”

Glynn hopes to grow his venture, which produces two podcasts about the city, by joining a new business incubator formed through a partnership between UWM’s Lubar College of Business and Lubar Entrepreneurship Center (LEC).

The Business Innovation Incubator is helping 10 startups, including Glynn’s, acquire the skills needed to move their ventures forward. UWM students, faculty, alumni and members of the broader community were invited to participate in the 11-month program. Incubator director Matthew Friedel hopes it will become an annual offering.

‘Custom consulting and mentoring’

Experience Milwaukee is the perfect participant for the incubator’s free training, said Friedel, who is also a senior lecturer in UWM’s School of Information Studies. Entrepreneurs accepted to the program are expected to have completed basic customer discovery and to demonstrate that they have a strong business idea, he said.

“There are not a lot of funding avenues for many of these companies that are off the ground, but not yet fully mature,” Friedel said. “So, a program like this gives participants access to a very experienced network of successful investors and entrepreneurs. It’s custom consulting and mentoring.”

“Our vision for the incubator is to spur innovation, entrepreneurial growth and jobs in the region through this very hands-on and individualized approach,” said Lubar College Dean Kaushal Chari.

Chari also noted that the program offers $5,000 grants to each of the program’s ventures.

Workshops teach helpful skills

In the first half of the program, participants will attend weekly workshops through a course offered by the Lubar College and held in the LEC on campus. Workshops will focus on skill needs for individual ventures, from sales and intellectual property to customer discovery and prototyping a product at the UWM Prototyping Center at the Innovation Campus building in Wauwatosa.

The program’s second component, beginning in the spring, will entail coaching and mentoring, Friedel said.

“It’s going to be discovering the domino to push over that makes the other dominoes fall so that their venture can be successful,” he said. “That could be anything from hiring additional people to fine-tuning your pitching skills. It depends on where that entrepreneur is.”

Participants will also benefit from the connections with Milwaukee Venture Partners, an angel investment group that Freidel co-founded in January 2021. The group recently contributed to a $1 million investment in the UWM startup COnovate, which is developing novel materials for lithium-ion batteries.

Expertise and guidance

Expertise from around the campus also is available. Friedel is working with incubator board members Steven Michael, Bostrom professor of entrepreneurship in the Lubar College; Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation; Jim Hunter, Bostrom entrepreneur-in-residence in the Lubar College; and Lauren Petersen, entrepreneur-in-residence at the LEC.

“When a program is offering the expertise, guidance and networking that this incubator has, I don’t think you can ever get enough of that,” said Glynn. “This is a perfect opportunity to leverage all of the resources here at UW-Milwaukee and use them to your advantage.”

This year’s participants include:

  • Alaina Whitson, Afiyana Apparel, UWM student
  • Deepak Arora, Wearable Technologies Inc., UWM student
  • Alex Schofield, Imago Labs LLC, alum
  • Terrance Thomas, Initial Card Game, alum
  • Kate Schober, STEAM Milwaukee, community member
  • Tara Bogart, KarmicSoft, community member
  • Mitchelle Lyle, International Travel Assisstance LLC, community member
  • Steve Glynn, Experience Milwaukee LLC, community member
  • Aaron Gregory, Upwardli, community member
  • Sandhya Padala, Rex Academy, community member

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