The Urban League of Greater Madison has received two grants totaling nearly $600,000 to support underrepresented entrepreneurs and job seekers, the organization announced at a press conference on Friday.

A $400,000 “Capital Catalyst” grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will add to the organization’s Black Business Hub Accelerator Fund, providing grants and loans to businesses considering locating within the forthcoming South Madison Black Business Hub. And a $185,000 “Wisconsin Fast Forward” grant from the Department of Workforce Development will support the Urban League’s Molecular Diagnostics Career Academy, a new initiative to train unemployed or underemployed residents for career-track jobs at diagnostics company Exact Sciences.

“These partners have made a significant commitment in helping us provide access to the types of opportunities that typically escape the Black community,” Urban League President and CEO Ruben Anthony said at the press conference. “We don’t typically have an opportunity to give grants and loans to small and growing minority-owned businesses. We don’t typically have an opportunity to put people into some of the best jobs in the county.”

The $400,000 grant will bring the total balance of the Accelerator Fund to nearly $1.5 million, Anthony said, noting that one of the biggest challenges for Black business owners is getting the capital they need to get started or grow.

On average, entrepreneurs of color have less wealth than white entrepreneurs, and they sometimes face outright discrimination from traditional lenders. Many are rejected when they apply for funding from banks and credit unions, and some simply don’t apply.

With its fund, the Urban League joins other Wisconsin organizations looking to offer an alternative form of funding. The Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce operates a revolving loan fund, which distributed nearly $400,000 in loans last year, and the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce is currently raising money to establish its first such fund, in partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

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