Inaugural VCMKE Launches

Ed JavierDana GuthrieQue El-AminTarik Moody and Maggie Fernandes have separately been active leaders in the Milwaukee-area startup community. With a new effort aimed at creating opportunities for underrepresented founders, they’re joining forces to draw Midwest founders and venture capitalists from around the country to Milwaukee.

The group is organizing VC MKE, a two-day event overlapping with this year’s Summerfest Tech conference in June. It’s aiming to bring investors and founders together for curated one-on-one meetings and networking. The event is scheduled for June 28-29 in Milwaukee.

Venture capital firms including Milwaukee’s CSA Partners and Chicago’s Hyde Park Venture Partners have already signed on to attend. Guthrie, managing director of Milwaukee venture firm Gateway Capital, and Moody, digital director of strategy of innovation at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, are leveraging their connections to recruit other investors.

As one strategy to recruit founders, the group is connecting with underrepresented entrepreneurs who applied to the Summerfest Tech Pitch Competition, which El-Amin’s Young Enterprising Society organization is producing.

Javier, the entrepreneurship program director for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., assembled the group of VC MKE organizers at the end of last year, said Fernandes, one of the facilitators of the MKE Tech Hub Coalition’s FOR-M startup incubator.

“We have so much respect for the work that we each do within our organizations and are always looking for ways to support one another,” Fernandes said. “When the opportunity presented itself for us to work on something together, it was an easy yes.”

Given that Wisconsin companies lag behind other Midwest states in venture capital raised and the dearth of venture financing that goes to founders of color, VC MKE’s goal is to improve startup funding for those entrepreneurs.

Startups with at least one non-white founder that have raised venture capital and returned cash to investors have historically produced 30% higher returns compared with startups that have all-white founding teams, according to a 2020 Kauffman Fellows report.

However, Black entrepreneurs raised around 1.2%, or nearly $1.8 billion, of the $147 billion in venture capital invested in U.S. startups in the first half of 2021, according to Crunchbase. That amount was more than quadruple what Black founders raised in the same period of 2020.

Investors and founders interested in the upcoming Milwaukee event can learn more and register on VC MKE’s website. Through sponsorships, the group plans to provide assistance for travel and lodging costs to a limited number of founders, Fernandes said.


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