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Six years ago, Amy Gannon and Heather Wentler decided it was time to shake up the mostly-white-male gatherings of Madison-area entrepreneurs. They created the Doyenne Group to encourage and support more women to start companies.

Now, Gannon and Wentler say they are ready to introduce their programs to other parts of Wisconsin -- and perhaps beyond.

To help finance the expansion, Gannon and Wentler have formed a crowdfunding campaign on the iFundWomen website in hopes of raising $50,000.

“Some of our members have done campaigns on iFundWomen,” Wentler said. UW-Madison grad Karen Cahn, who held leadership roles at Google, YouTube and AOL, founded iFundWomen.

The crowdfunding site is “perfectly aligned with what we’re doing,” Wentler said. The campaign is open until May 12.

Doyenne raised $1.2 million for its Evergreen Fund in 2016, but Wentler said the fund is reserved primarily for investing in companies owned by women or people of color.

The $50,000 will go to offset costs for Doyenne’s programs and to start expanding to other cities, Wentler said. 

“We are looking at pilot programs in Milwaukee before the end of this year, and next year, in the Fox Valley,” she said.

Wentler said eight to 10 Doyenne members already travel to Madison from the Milwaukee area to attend the group’s events.

Doyenne has more than 200 members and offers a variety of activities, from coaching to retreats to pitch competitions. The organization started its own business accelerator program this year.

Wentler is a serial entrepreneur; Gannon was an assistant professor and interim business school dean at Edgewood College.

Doyenne will partner with organizations supporting entrepreneurs in the other cities to form chapters, Wentler said. She and Gannon will become leaders of the Doyenne organization, as a whole, and will train teams to coordinate programs in Madison and any additional cities.

“Doyenne’s plan is to be in five cities within the next five years,” she said.

Wentler has visions of Doyenne chapters sprouting around the U.S., similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs.

“We’re already getting phone calls from around the nation,” Wentler said. “If St. Louis or Denver called, we want to be ready.”

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.