Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Today my guest is Ossie Kendrix of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin here in – imagine that – Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We are actually filming inside the Hudson Business Lounge and Café, so thanks to them. Well Ossie welcome to the show.
Ossie: Thank you Amber, thanks for having me.
Amber: In a nutshell can you tell me what the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin is?
Ossie: Sure. The African American Chamber of Commerce in a nutshell is an organization that works to solidify and build and strengthen existing African American owners’ own businesses.
Amber: And how do y’all do that?
Ossie: We have three pillars; access to capital, strategic partnerships and advocacy. So with our access to capital essentially we’re a micro lender, so we are providing revolving loan funds as well as we’re a Kiva loan trustee to provide opportunities for businesses that need to start up or expand working capital, all sorts.
Amber: Sure and so you say micro loan fund, what are sort of the ranges of the loans that you are able to give out to your members.
Ossie: It’s small dollars starting, $5,000.00 to $35,000.00, and then Kiva loans that are international at $10,000.00.
Amber: And just for people who don’t know what Kiva loans are can you give an explanation of that?
Ossie: Kiva loans utilize social capital; so it’s crowd funding, it’s all online. The founders of PayPal founded Kiva, so everything is electronic and it helps a business to broaden and build their social capital through social media.
Amber: And so to my understanding Kiva is global as well.
Amber: And if I wanted to give a loan to someone I could give as little as $5.00, is that correct?
Ossie: Yes, as little as $5 to $25.
Amber: And then it’s consolidated from the crowd funding and then loaned to the business.
Amber: I just want to make sure I get it right.
Ossie: You’re right. It’s 0% interest so it’s a great opportunity for an entrepreneur.
Amber: That’s wonderful. How did the Chamber of Commerce get hooked up with Kiva?
Ossie: We were approached by the state of Wisconsin, WEDC – Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – as an opportunity to engage the minority chambers in being trustees with Kiva loans. It’s been a great win, there’s a success story close in proximity to where we’re at – Hudson Business Lounge. So Nas Laine – NL Suits which is catty corner from here – was our first applicant to utilize Kiva and raised the funds in just a few days to benefit his transitioning from just one store front to another.
Amber: Money is one thing, it’s wonderful, it’s probably the most important thing for a business owner, but the next level is advocacy that you guys do. Tell me more about that.
Ossie: Our goal is to advocate on behalf of businesses. Essentially we’re the voice that they need in difficult times. One of the examples that’s currently happening is Foxconn is moving to the state of Wisconsin and the potential there in looking at kind of the aftermath; so housing, real estate development, transportation, education to ramp up education so that Wisconsin residents can secure positions with Foxconn.
At the forefront there’s also real estate development that will happen for Foxconn, and the African American Chamber has members that are capable of providing services to that real estate development project. So we want to ensure that our voice is heard so we’re talking with the state. We’re lobbying to ensure that their opportunities are presented to African American owned firms as well as Wisconsin residents that the effort on the project mirrors the state of Wisconsin.
Amber: Gotcha, which brings us to the third pillar, strategic partnerships.
Ossie: Yes. We have a great strategic partnership with the city of Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a city accelerator, so in the fourth year of the city accelerator experience it’s funded through Living Cities and the City Foundation. We have a yearlong experience in working with the city of Milwaukee to look at how can we increase opportunities on professional service contracts for minority and woman-owned businesses.
Amber: What other partnerships do you guys have in place right now?
Ossie: One of the major partnerships that we have is relative to our revolving loan fund; so partnership with the state, Town Bank, Associated Bank and MEDC – Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation to provide the capital for our revolving loan fund and we’re looking to grow that in a major way as well, so hopefully to increase that threshold of $35,000.00; to raise that cap.
Amber: Can you think of a business that has joined the Chamber and maybe has utilized all three aspects of the mission to really take their business to the next level?
Ossie: Yes, I can think of three businesses that kind of fit all three of those pillars. So the first one is I mentioned Nas Laine with NL Suits.
Amber: Right around here.
Ossie: Securing access to capital through a Kiva loan. So the second one is Tina Kelly, a franchise owner of Massage Envy, entrepreneur. She approached the African American Chamber at a time where we were just starting our micro lending efforts. We were able to collaborate to develop a loan package for her a few years ago that’s been very beneficial to her expansion and the growth and expansion of Massage Envy located in Whitefish Bay.
Amber: Okay how far is that from here and can I get a massage today? Can you call Tina?
Ossie: You sure can. I can call her for you and it’s just like a 10 minute drive.
Amber: Awesome, that sounds wonderful.
Ossie: And the third one would be BestEd Agency. So they’re a service provider providing products anywhere from construction hats to school supplies to office supplies.
Amber: Wow, very wide variety.
Ossie: We were approached by Froedtert Hospital who procures supplies and they simply were looking for minority suppliers who could provide some of their resources and products that they need. So we connected BestEd to Froedtert as an opportunity. So we’re hoping that BestEd goes down through the process of becoming a supplier and will begin delivering products to Froedtert.
Amber: Thank you so much for joining us Ossie, we appreciate it.
Ossie: Thanks for having me Amber.
Amber: Once again Ossie Kendrix, the President of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin. I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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