In recognition of Milwaukee entrepreneurs, event organizers hosted a special tour of small business owners located around the city on May 1 to showcase their personal stories and positive community impact.

The idea behind the bus tour for Milwaukee Small Business Week was to give community stakeholders a chance to go into the heart of the city and get a firsthand look at the small businesses that are thriving, and hear about the benefits of the city programs that helped them to open their doors and storefronts.

“Our Small Business Bus Tour is a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with local entrepreneurs, talk with the owners, and tour their locations,” said Nepherterra Estrada Best, Milwaukee Small Business Week Founder and Organizer. “We tried to feature a range of new and seasoned business owners with powerful stories. It’s hard to take this tour and not walk away inspired.”

Milwaukee is going through another renaissance cycle, and people either want to start a business or companies are trying to build up their capacity. But banks are hesitant to fund most growth projects because they are unsure how long the trend will last. A lot of startup businesses also lack the collateral equity to put into an enterprise. In general, Milwaukee institutions have yet to figure out how to fill that gap, to assist entrepreneurs in obtaining collateral to start a business.

“The last time Milwaukee had this ecosystem of entrepreneurship was the late 1800s, because we were creating a city. So we can almost say that today we are trying to create the new Milwaukee,” said Joaquin J. Altoro, Vice President of Commercial Banking at Town Bank. “That requires a real concentration at neighborhood level, to figure out what makes communities healthy, and how can we support initiatives around that.”

The average Milwaukee citizen often is unaware of the vital role that small businesses play in our local economy. These stories are overshadowed by the large scale firms. Other companies and industries play a necessary role in the daily operations and growth of the economy beyond downtown, and the small business tour helped to highlight some of Milwaukee’s small business champions within the community.

“I enjoy the opportunity to actually get out and see, feel, and touch small businesses. It really is a different dynamic,” said Altoro. “As a banker, the way I have to define and evaluate a business, unfortunately but fortunately, is the paperwork side. So to actually see it and touch it, that gives me a different viewpoint as to the real world struggles, or successes, or excitement that they provide to the fabric of Milwaukee.”

From HVAC companies and pizzerias to video game shops and kitchen accessory stores, the Milwaukee Small Business Week Bus Tour showcased the city’s diverse businesses and brands. The discussions also opened up collaborative opportunities and new networks of communications.

“Sometimes people get concerned about being awarded a certain contract to work on certain projects. Just because it doesn’t work out that first go-round, they shouldn’t give up,” said Nikki Purvis, Director of the Office of Small Business Development (OSBD) for the City of Milwaukee. “Someone will notice your great work, someone will notice your drive, and your passion will definitely carry you through. Be great at what you do, be authentic at what you do, and provide a great quality product or service, and people recognize you for the great things that you’re doing.”

Rockwell Mechanical, Certified HVAC company – Antonio Velez, Owner

Phongsavan Asian Market, Shopping and community center – Pai Yang, Owner

Battlebox Studios, Video game shop – Bryant Wilcox, Owner

Our Daily Salt, Wooden kitchen wares – Felisha Wild and Janelle Phalen, Owners

WY ‘east Pizza, Pizza restaurant – James Durawa and Ann Brock, Owners