Fund Milwaukee has backed some of the city’s most iconic community projects, and a recent partnership will provide the organization with the means to support small businesses in a new way. Through pitch events, Fund Milwaukee connects the local investor ecosystem with Main Street businesses that need capital. The organization’s investor network has funded projects like Sherman Phoenix and Bublr Bikes and businesses like Purple Door Ice Cream and the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.
Since 2012, Fund Milwaukee’s investor network has raised $3.9 million across 381 investors and completed eight equity deals totaling $2.8 million. The investor network has also produced 201 individual equity deals and 180 individual loan deals with an average loan size of $37,000. Earlier this month, Fund Milwaukee partnered with Honeycomb Credit, a Pittsburgh-based crowdfunding platform that allows small businesses to source capital.
BizTimes reporter Brandon Anderegg recently caught up with Fund Milwaukee board members Mike Maschek, Ben LeFort and Jeremy Fojut. The interview has been edited for length.
Maschek: “It can be anyone, and that’s what’s interesting about it. It’s set up as a friends-and-family (investment) model. It’s just Milwaukeeans who get together and are interested in supporting Main Street businesses. We’re providing a venue for businesses to pitch and for investors to hear pitches. The transaction is really between the investor and the business.”
LeFort: “Our mission all along has been to make investing more accessible to people who love Milwaukee and love the businesses they’re connecting with. We don’t endorse deals or endorse businesses; we’re just a platform for connecting. But in that process, it creates community and additional buzz and support for the businesses.”
What’s the advantage of Fund Milwaukee’s investment model?
Maschek: “Most people will invest in a 401(k) or fixed stocks, but it almost doesn’t seem real because you can’t really see it. With Fund Milwaukee investments, we’re generating returns. It’s not philanthropy, but you can also go down the street, visit the Sherman Phoenix and see what your dollars are doing. To me, that’s a lot more powerful than looking at a bank or investment statement and seeing a 5% return. You can see the dollars circulating in your community and the impact it has on the investors but also the businesses that are able to hire people. To me that’s the really powerful thing about Fund Milwaukee.”
Fojut: “Investing locally is all about equity. It’s part of a city’s culture, the urban fabric, and part of what makes you want to live in a city. It’s beyond the ROI, it’s ROC – return on community – and that’s really what I think it’s all about.”
LeFort: “The real advantage is having a community of investors that are supporting a local business. There’s often, especially for new investors coming to a pitch meeting, they get to hear the kinds of questions that other more experienced investors are asking of the business. There’s a lot of investor education that goes on naturally.”