By Kathleen Gallagher
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
After spending 35 years growing her own companies in California, Jacquin Davidson came home to Wisconsin to help grow some more.
Davidson in November was named executive director of BizStarts Milwaukee Inc., a nonprofit formed in 2008.
She’s aiming to combine her entrepreneurial experience with BizStarts’ resources to encourage companies to “start and stay’ in the region.
“She’s strong and extremely capable, and she’s got this iron will about her,” said Paul Eberle, chief executive of the Milwaukee-based law firm of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek.
Davidson’s appointment will help BizStarts continue to grow, said Dan Steininger, co-founder and president.
There are about 160 entrepreneurs and companies currently working with BizStarts, Davidson said.
They are receiving help with tasks such as finding customers, securing loans and preparing pitches for investors, she said.
One of the big advantages of working with BizStarts is that Davidson and her staff provide constructive advice right from the beginning, said Jim Jendusa, founder of Hartland-based Forteco Framing Co., an installer, and Lightweight Structures LLC., which makes a framing system for commercial and residential construction.
“All of the feedback from BizStarts has been that our product is viable and scalable — it’s given us confidence,” Jendusa said.
BizStarts has provided Jendusa with connections and mentoring in a range of areas, from crafting a business plan and entering competitions, to applying for a patent and obtaining funding, he said.
His company, which hope to get another round of financing, participated in an investor forum organized by BizStarts. He and the group are discussing holding a forum where he could introduce his lightweight framing system to local developers and contractors, Jendusa said.
A Kenosha native, Davidson taught middle school art in Green Bay before moving to California 35 years ago. There, she started and ran for 20 years WrapIt Entertainment, which supplied film crews with motor homes for wardrobe changes, makeup and other purposes.
She also worked with non profits on strategic planning, board development and fundraising. Davidson was on the boards of the Girl Scouts and Komen Foundation in Orange County and chaired events for organizations like the American Heart Association.
Eventually, though, Davidson decided to return to Wisconsin “because of family and I love Milwaukee; it has everything that California does, except the weather.”
Davidson was hired at BizStarts in May as entrepreneur director. She was promoted in November to the number two job.
Davidson is a perfect counterpoint to Steininger, Eberle said.
“Dan is your classic entrepreneurial, visionary guy who has all the great ideas and needs somebody doing all the tactical stuff — and that someone has got to be a strong person who can stand up to his personality,” Eberle said. “She just stays right down the middle on the task at hand.”
BizStarts initially worked with only the highest-potential businesses, but has broadened its efforts. Businesses it recently helped include The Milwaukee Pizza Co., a West Allis frozen pizza maker; Wellspring Ideas LLC, a Menomonee Falls company that makes a small shoulder pouch to protect valuables; and Raw A-Peel, a Milwaukee juice maker.
About 85% of the companies that have worked with BizStarts are still in business, Davidson said. They typically create between one and 100 jobs, with the “sweet spot” ranging from 15 to 25, she added.
It’s the job creation that motivates Art Rozema, a member of the board, mentor, and a director at Robert W. Baird & Co. The father of four says he wants his children to be able to find good-paying jobs in Wisconsin when they’re older.
“I travel around the country and see this high energy and say ‘there’s absolutely no reason it can’t be here,'” Rozema said. “We’ve got all the baseline elements.”