Milwaukee VC Backs Local Startup That’s Helping Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers

Two founders dedicated to giving people a leg up just received one of their own.

It was recently reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Eli Rivera and Ruben Gaona, co-founders of The Way Out app, recently received $400,000 in seed funding from Gateway Capital Partners, a Milwaukee-based Black-owned venture capital fund.

Created in 2020, the app puts formerly incarcerated job seekers in contact with potential employers, re-entry service providers, training programs, and even transportation to get to and from work according to the outlet.

The cash infusion will help the app expand its offerings.

“We felt that if we were going to partner with (venture capitalists), we wanted them to truly understand and have experienced the systemic inequalities that we are addressing through our platform,” Rivera told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a December 2022 interview. “Having a Black female-managed VC group backing us is perfect.”

The unique positioning of the investment wasn’t lost on the founders.

“We get less than 3% combined — that’s women. That’s Black and brown founders,” Rivera said. “It’s that little. It’s like fighting every day to try to figure out where’s that next little pot of money gonna come from,” Rivera said. “That takes a lot of energy and focus away from what we are doing. It (funding) allows us to work on the business; not in the business.”

Gateway Capital is a Milwaukee-based venture capital firm that aims to be the first venture capital dollar into primarily pre-revenue startups. The firm says they ‘look for the overlooked – emerging entrepreneurial geographies that traditionally lack venture capital investment.’

The app was born out of personal re-entry challenges both Rivera and Gaona experienced, who both spent time in prison.

“They have a strong understanding of the people their platform serves because they lived it themselves,” Dana A. Guthrie, Gateway Capital Partners‘ managing partner told the outlet. “The Way Out demonstrates how technology, when applied thoughtfully, can address social issues within a business model that is highly scalable,” she said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She continued that she does “not believe financial returns and social returns are mutually exclusive. The Way Out is a great example of that.”


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