Six nonprofit organizations will receive grants from the state to fund efforts to help veterans start or expand their businesses, part of Gov. Scott Walker's pledge to chip away at veteran unemployment in Wisconsin.
Walker, with newly appointed state Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Daniel Zimmerman, presented the awards on Monday at the state Capitol.
"Veterans, through their military service, already have some of the essential skills and other intangibles that make a good business owner," Zimmerman said. "Partnering with these nonprofits so they can provide veterans the training and education they need to become entrepreneurs will not only help that individual veteran but will also be creating jobs and improving the employment situation in our state."
Walker said his priority is ensuring all veterans — but particularly those returning from recent deployments — have access to full employment.
The veteran unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 3.6 percent, according to the most recent data available.
"There shouldn't be a person wanting, who served our country, who wants not just a job but a career," Walker said.
The largest grant, at $238,556, will go to Bunker Labs, a nonprofit incubator for veteran-led startups. Bunker Labs Wisconsin executive director Michael Ertmer said the organization will partner with the Wisconsin Technology Council and Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Centers to host a series of seminars throughout the state starting in April.
"We are ecstatic to have this opportunity to expand and accelerate our mission to inspire, educate, and connect veteran entrepreneurs to help them start and grow their businesses throughout Wisconsin," Ertmer said in a statement.
A $90,000 grant to Legal Action of Wisconsin will fund legal services, including contract reviews, for veteran entrepreneurs.
Appleton's Fox Valley Technical College Foundation will use its $36,520 grant to fund a pilot program to help 10 veterans start or expand their own business, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Veterans Upward Bound will use $25,000 to launch a readiness and support program for veteran entrepreneurs.
Smaller grants, at about $5,000 each, will help Middleton's Michelangelo's Workshop teach veterans the skills necessary for ownership or employment in a stone sculpting business, and help Waukesha's Project Echelon prepare veterans to re-enter the workplace.