Madison is creating a lot of opportunities for people who want to start a business, but not everyone is getting access to them.
“There are two dialogues surrounding entrepreneurship in Madison,” said Preston Austin, co-organizer of Forward Fest. “One is for people who have access to (tools to create) startups. The other is for people of color and, to a lesser degree, women, who feel they are living in a different world.”
Will Green, founder of Mentoring Positives, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth, was one of a dozen panel members at the daylong summit.
He said funding organizations are “missing the small, grass roots, minority-led agencies and people doing good work.”
Youths in Green’s group learned to grow tomatoes and peppers and cooked up “Off the Block Salsa.”
“Once they’ve seen that we can do that — wow, we can create something and we got it in the store and it sold out in the first week — it makes them understand, man, this could happen,” Green said.
Green said people in low-income neighborhoods need a chance to experience entrepreneurship. “If we put resources behind them, don’t let them fail,” he said.
Gregory St. Fort, executive director of the 100State co-working community, stressed the entrepreneurial community’s importance “in terms of building what Madison looks like tomorrow,” both for commercial and nonprofit startups.
St. Fort said Madison needs “more conversations, with all of the relevant parties in the room.”
Austin said Madison has made a lot of progress in giving entrepreneurs a helping hand but it also needs to create a model to “make sure the benefits are widespread, to make sure support is not to the exclusion of people that are too old, people of color, or the homeless.”
At the same time, he said, the expectations of potential investors should adjust to the situation. “They can’t expect the Darbo neighborhood to deliver the same return that you can from the corner of King Street and the Capitol,” Austin said.
More than 100 people attended the Social Good Summit — the first one held as part of Forward Fest — at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
Forward Fest, in its sixth year, runs through next Thursday, with events scheduled at more than a dozen locations around Dane County.