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Business Class: New fund for rural businesses; Madison nursing enterprise amasses $700K

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Cheryl getting screened

Cheryl Marten is screened for COVID-19 by nurse Bre Loughlin, CEO of Nurse Disrupted, who appears on a computer tablet, at the Salvation Army women's homeless shelter in Madison.

Madison’s technology and startup communities continue to grow, and that expansion is fueling private investment not only in new companies, but entrepreneurs who come from marginalized groups.

Bringing that news to the fore is Business Class, a biweekly digest of tidbits emerging from the city's workplaces. For more on the top stories, keep reading after the digest.

Top stories


  • Exact Sciences announced Thursday its $500,000 donation to the Urban League of Greater Madison’s Black Business Hub project — to be located on the city’s South Side. The biomedical giant will also lease space inside the Hub once its constructed.
  • Madison-based transportation management software company, SwanLeap, has been acquired by Georgia’s Transportation Insight, a firm that specializes in logistics and freight solutions. Founded in 2013, SwanLeap has received high praise for previously being one of the fastest-growing private companies after five years of operation. The terms of the sale have not been disclosed.
  • A Madison-based music streaming startup known as LÜM (Live Undiscovered Music) announced on Twitter last Monday the company is shutting down temporarily. CEO Max Fergus told the Wisconsin State Journal that the startup plans to relaunch, but he couldn’t share details beyond that. 
  • gener8tor, a startup accelerator located in Downtown Madison, announced it has surpassed 800 alumni since its 2012 launch. The accelerator is also expanding into Colorado.

Revolving loan fund

MadREP’s new revolving loan fund focuses on entrepreneurs and businesses located in Dane, Dodge, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock and Sauk counties.

The funding source, according to a statement MadREP released Thursday, will increase access to capital for qualifying parties, and is designed to provide gap financing.

Gap financing is a loan that’s subordinate to a lead lender that allows projects — like constructing a building for a business — to move forward while waiting on additional investments.

The revolving loan fund comes as rural businesses face disparate growth challenges compared to their urban counterparts. It’s a transfer of an already existing Columbia County Economic Development Corp. fund that uses U.S. Department of Agriculture dollars, MadREP said Thursday.

The Columbia County economic development agency was able to garner three grant awards from the department over the last two decades that the fund has existed, each totaling over $320,000.

In a statement, agency executive director Cheryl Fahrner said Columbia County has been able to help 21 entrepreneurs start businesses with the fund.

“Launching the (revolving loan fund) enhances our economic development portfolio, introducing more tools to empower our residents and make our Region more competitive,” said MadREP president Jason Fields. “In developing the fund, MadREP wanted to create opportunities for businesses historically disenfranchised from traditional funding sources, especially rural entrepreneurs.”

Nurse Disrupted investment

As a registered nurse and former Epic employee, Bre Loughlin knows just how much the pandemic has “changed our lives.”

When the Wisconsin State Journal first checked in with Loughlin, the founder of Nurse Disrupted, the startup was providing online coronavirus screenings for the Porchlight men’s homeless shelter in Downtown Madison, as well as at the Salvation Army women’s shelter on the East Side.

Now, with $700,000 at the startup’s disposal, Loughlin said she hopes to take Nurse Disrupted global. She wants Nurse Disrupted to provide telehealth services for as many organizations as possible, including rural health institutions, more homeless shelters and even libraries.

“It’s something that’s needed everywhere ... there’s a shortage of (care) providers and a difficulty with (internet) access and connectivity (in rural areas),” Loughlin said.

That will start with building up Nurse Disrupted staff, she said, adding that’s what the funds will cover for now.

The startup has grown from having four volunteer nurses to 350, Loughlin said, with four full-time employees at the Nurse Disrupted office in Fitchburg.

First Business Bank survey results

Despite persistent challenges stemming from the pandemic, businesses around the area continue to express optimism about 2022, according to First Business Bank’s 19th annual survey.

In Dane County, 46% of respondents reported better than projected results in 2021, and 17% of businesses said growth was worse than expected. The 46% figure mirrors that of other bank markets, according to a Wednesday statement.

And after three consecutive years of declining sales revenue, Dane County executives reported a sharp year-over-year increase this year from 35% to 63% — the best figures since 2018.

In terms of employment, talent shortages was a top issue continuing to affect Dane County businesses. But 42% of respondents said they expanded their workforce, with 74% increasing wages.

The survey received responses from 305 business leaders in Dane County, southeast and northeast Wisconsin, as well as the Kansas City metro area.

“Businesses have shown great resilience in the face of extreme challenges,” said Jim Hartlieb, First Business Bank president. “In particular, the talent hunt and associated labor costs have put pressures on businesses in greater Dane County — and their profits — as reflected in the results of the First Business Bank survey. Finding both short-term and long-term solutions to mitigating these issues will be especially important in the year to come.”


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