By Judy Newman
The Wisconsin State Journal
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Doyenne Group, founded in 2012, has worked to support women entrepreneurs of all types, with networking and mentoring. Originally Doyenne co-founders Heather Wentler and Amy Gannon had hoped to build a $400,000 fund. Instead, they have put together a pot totaling $1.2 million for use over the next two years
The Wisconsin State Journal
A young company working to help provide more effective treatment for blood cancers will have some extra money to move things along.
Lynx Biosciences won the 5X5X5 pitch competition held by the Doyenne Group and 1 Million Cups Madison on Wednesday, as part of Forward Fest, taking home a $5,000 grant.
Lynx was one of five women-led businesses chosen to make five-minute pitches to win the $5,000, thus the name 5X5X5.
And there will be more opportunities for women and minorities to turn their ideas into businesses, and perhaps make their way to the 5X5X5 pitch contest, thanks to a new fund the Doyenne Group is debuting.
Two years in the works, the Doyenne Evergreen Fund far surpassed its fundraising goal and will start at a much higher level than its originators anticipated. As part of the deal, it will serve a broader audience, as well.
Doyenne co-founders Heather Wentler and Amy Gannon had hoped to build a $400,000 fund. Instead, they have put together a pot totaling $1.2 million for use over the next two years.
“Now, we’re able to offer grants, loans and equity investments,” Wentler said.
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The big break came when Doyenne was awarded $600,000 from the City of Madison Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Fund, to be split evenly over two years, and to be matched with other funds. The nonprofit Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership, each put in $200,000 and the Doyenne Group raised its own $200,000 to match the city’s contribution. The local philanthropic group, A Fund for Women, also provided a $20,000 grant.
The Doyenne Group, founded in 2012, has worked to support women entrepreneurs of all types, with networking and mentoring.
Now it will expand its mission to help entrepreneurs of color as well, as a requirement of obtaining the city money, Wentler said.
It will be doled out in the form of 40 grants at $5,000 apiece; $360,000 for loans; and about $300,000 for equity investments, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 per company.
The rest of the money will go toward programming and support, largely for the entrepreneurs in the program, Wentler said.
“With the grants, we’re looking for pre-seed level companies that are in very, very early stages,” she said.
The grant funds are expected to be used to move a company forward, such as creating a prototype or testing the business model. “It can’t go toward operations like paying your salaries,” Wentler said. Doyenne hopes to start accepting applications this fall.
And there may be quite a few, if attendance at Forward Fest is any indication.
When Doyenne started helping with the eight-day entrepreneurial conference, about 10 percent of the audience was women. This year, it was around 40 percent, Wentler said.
“So we’re seeing a huge growth. There’s started to be equality of the sexes,” she said.
Wentler said a study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation placed Wisconsin at No. 50 for women entrepreneurs last year, but the state jumped to No. 38 this year, she said.
Among those attending Forward Fest, including the 5X5X5 competition, was Jill Van Beke, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at Launch Tennessee, in Nashville — Tennessee’s public-private effort to build high-growth companies.
Van Beke said she was impressed by the diversity of presenters at Forward Fest’s several pitch contests and by the role of private businesses in local entrepreneurship. Also of note was the sense of camaraderie among entrepreneurs here, even those competing with each other.
“That sort of recognition that it takes a village and that they have a village is incredibly valuable,” she said.
Van Beke, a native of Columbus, Ohio, said Madison does not appear headed on a quick path to riches, but that’s OK.
“What’s happening here is being done by people who are here and have been here,” she said. “So it feels very real and very sustainable.”
Van Beke and Lisa Calhoun, a founding partner of Valor Ventures, Atlanta, were brought in by StartingBlock, a planned entrepreneurial hub in the works in Central Madison.