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Photo courtesy of Cap Times

Gateways to Entrepreneurship for Wisconsin Latinos

July 21, 2022

Over the past two decades, the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce (WLCC) has steadily grown its membership and its reputation for maximizing economic development and job creation through advocacy and programs. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


In just the past two years, the organization’s membership has nearly doubled. With a current membership of 640 members and seven staff, it was time to think bigger. 


The Gateway


When the Chamber approached FCI with a request to help finance the acquisition of a 15,000-square-foot building in Fitchburg, we were excited by the possibilities. Dubbed “The Gateway,” the new office will be seven times bigger than its current space and will include classrooms, a commercial kitchen, and retail space. 


“It's going to be the gateway to employability, the gateway to creating new jobs and also helping our business owners scale,” Chamber president Jessica Cavazos told The Cap Times recently.  


The Gateway’s goal is to help early-stage companies quickly reach key milestones that often lead to ongoing growth and capital investment support. Its business incubator will offer grants, mentorship, skills training, and access to a network of business leaders and experienced entrepreneurs. 


Aspiring restaurateurs can utilize the commercial kitchen, called Tu Cocina Food Hub, to safely and legally prepare food for sale. Entrepreneurs can learn about online sales in the retail space, and Cavazos hopes to partner with a technology company to create a computer skills training space.


Plus, The Gateway will offer storage space where, for a nominal fee, entrepreneurs can store equipment that they might not be able to store safely at home, such as cleaning supplies and landscaping tools. There will also be spaces for parking food trucks and other work vehicles. 


The Chamber will continue to offer all training and services free of charge and in Spanish, ensuring The Gateway will be a place where entrepreneurs can feel welcomed and supported. The resulting increase in entrepreneurship will help families build wealth, which ultimately strengthens their communities and contributes to a more equitable economic system. 


Expanded Mission


Previously known as the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County, WLCC has recently expanded its mission to serve entrepreneurs across the state as the Latino population increases in both rural and urban Wisconsin. Cavazos said they’ve provided support for people as far north as Marathon County. 


Indeed, WLCC has become a significant state-wide job creator. One of their programs, “Tu Empresa,” has graduated over 450 businesses to date, and they were able to continue the program virtually during the height of the pandemic. Graduates of the accredited program earn three credits from Madison College at no cost.


Other WLLC programs include “Prospera,” a forgivable loan program, and “Mi Vacuna,” a statewide vaccination campaign funded by the state. Together with the City of Madison, WLLC hosts the LCC Plaza Community Market on summer Sundays to feature many of the entrepreneurs they’ve trained and supported.  


By their very nature, entrepreneurs have the passion and tenacity to launch and grow businesses that create new jobs, diversify the economy, and enhance the quality of life for the community. It’s an honor to help WLLC create an incubator that expands support for such entrepreneurs. 


Initially, the Chamber hopes to raise $5 million through their capital campaign. Renovations on The Gateway should begin this fall, with the goal of opening to the public next year. You can learn more about becoming a member, supporting their mission, and advocating for Latino entrepreneurs here:

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