Evergreen fund

The Doyenne Group's Heather Wentler, right, looks on as Alderman Mark Clear talks about the background of the city's recently created fund for women and people of color in the world of entrepreneurship at a Forward Festival event on Wednesday.

The Doyenne Group, a nonprofit devoted to helping women entrepreneurs, has unveiled a new $1.2 million fund for investing in startups operated by women and people of color.

Amy Gannon and Heather Wentler, the two co-founders of the group, were joined by Alderman Mark Clear at the downtown branch of the Madison Public Library on Wednesday before the start of a Forward Festival event to announce the launch of the "Doyenne Group Evergreen Fund." The fund, they said, will be a major step toward addressing a lack of diversity in the world of entrepreneurship and tech in Madison.

The pool of money that the nonprofit will manage is unique in its structure — in a sense, it's a fund within a fund. Half of the $1.2 million is public money coming from the City of Madison's Entrepreneurship & Small Business Development Resource Fund — a program authorized by the city in 2014 as part of its municipal budget. The city voted this May to award Doyenne the authority to manage the fund, which effectively transfers the money to the nonprofit's coffers.

Ald. Mark Clear — who himself is a longtime entrepreneur, currently serving as the chief operations officer at the startup talent agency GigBlender — was one of the alders responsible for proposing the public fund in 2014, along with then-alderman Scott Resnick.

"Resnick and I were talking about entrepreneurship, and particularly the gender gap in terms of entrepreneurship," Clear told a crowd gathered in the conference room. "And what governments do when they see a problem, is throw money at it."

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation and A Fund for Women are also building on that $600,000 foundation with about $420,000 in contributions of their own. A further $200,000 will come from Doyenne's own fundraising.

Almost three-quarters of the money from the fund will go toward a mixture of loans, grants and equity investments into early-stage companies operated by women and people of color. The money will also go toward programming geared toward supporting those startups.

Gannon told the crowd that recipients of the funding will indeed be receiving a lot of support from Doyenne and its partners, not just financial assistance.

"Not only do you get dollars from Doyenne — you get entryway into the ecosystem, you get coaching, you get developmental opportunities, you get connections to other money," she said.

The new fund will bring a lot of changes to the Doyenne Group itself, according to Wentler. For one thing, it means that the organization is slightly expanding its focus. The nonprofit was founded with a mission of helping women in entrepreneurship, but now, because of the city fund's focus on racial minorities, Doyenne will now also prioritize reaching out to people of color.

"We're trying to break more and more into those communities within Madison," said Wentler.

Doyenne has already been doing that, said Wentler, in part by forming partnerships with groups like YWCA Madison, the Urban League of Greater Madison and the Latino Chamber of Commerce.

Wentler also said that the fund is huge for Doyenne in other ways. The $1.2 million in the fund is more money than she ever expected Doyenne to manage, for one thing. Plus, she said that the Evergreen Fund is a realization of her vision to run a fund that could deploy a combination of grants, loans and angel investments to businesses who need them.

Wentler expects to be opening the fund up for applications from entrepreneurs this fall, and to actually put money in the hands of businesses by the first quarter of 2017 at the latest. Meanwhile, the group is focusing on finishing drawing up paperwork for operating the fund, and on wrapping up its annual fundraising campaign.

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Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.