The Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce completed its first entrepreneurship boot camp June 23 with a graduation ceremony for its 17 participants at Harley-Davidson Inc.’s Milwaukee headquarters.  
The chamber teamed up with Harley-Davidson’s supplier diversity program to start the inaugural boot camp in late April, which included Wednesday evening sessions for eight weeks covering legal structure, market research, business financials, startup financing and supplier diversity.
The program was designed to support LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs with a business idea or whose businesses have been around for less than two years and have less than $1 million in annual revenue, the chamber’s president and CEO Jason Rae said in an earlier interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal
The first and last sessions of the program were hosted in person at Harley-Davidson’s headquarters and the other sessions were virtual. Phillip Bailey, director of strategic initiatives at the chamber, said the new program is a part of the chamber’s goals created when the chamber started nearly 10 years ago. 
“Programs like this are the foundations of why we exist,” Bailey said at the event. “Our goal when we launched this program was to provide a comprehensive program to the LGBTQ+ entrepreneur to launch and accelerate their business.” 
The event also included corporate representatives for the program like Bryan Niketh, senior vice president for product development and operations at Harley-Davidson Inc. and the sponsor for the company’s LGBTQ employee resource group. Harley-Davidson Inc. is a founding partner of the boot camp, Niketh said at the event. 
“Specific to the LGBTQ business community, we’re working to increase our spend and engagement through a number of different tactics, one being thinking through how we engage LGBTQ suppliers through our commodity strategies in terms of how we source new products,” Niketh said. 
One of the boot camp’s goals is to create more local certified LGBT Business Enterprises that are eligible for corporate contracts with companies trying to diversify their supply chains.  
Rew Gordon runs the Mitchell Street Arts Collaborative, a nonprofit organization with a location on Mitchell Street in Milwaukee’s south side that provides a creative maker space for professional artists to work together on projects. The facility includes equipment like a wood shop, ceramics area, photo dark room and 3D printers.
The collaborative also hosts classes for students to learn new skills in its maker space and has a public stage to give local theater troupes, poetry groups, bands and stand-up comedians a place to perform in the evenings, Gordon said at the event. 
Gordon, a participant in the boot camp, said it provided valuable accounting resources and camaraderie among the entrepreneurs in the group.
“It’s a great sense of community to help develop and make connections within Milwaukee with other folks who are a part of the same community,” Gordon said. “It’s also just a wonderful resource to help build out the gamut of all of my knowledge about entrepreneurship for starting a new project.” 
John Houtler-McCoy previously was co-owner of Silver Maple Studios LLC, a small business that built shows for theater companies. He used the boot camp to develop an idea for a new theater sustainability business that would act as a “one-stop-shop” for collecting theater waste, processing it and redistributing it to theaters across Milwaukee. 
The business would try to solve the problem of mid-level and small theaters throwing away their equipment after performances because they lack the physical space to store it. Houtler-McCoy said the programming helped him learn business terminology to better frame his business idea to potential partners in the theater industry. 
“I know a lot more as far as what I need to figure out and how to start reaching out to the contacts I have in the industry,” Houtler-McCoy said. “I’ve owned a small business before, so it was great to bring a lot of clarity to all the things I did wrong before and how not to repeat them.” 
The chamber hopes to make the entrepreneurship boot camp into an ongoing program with pitch events and cohorts for specific segments of the LGBTQ+ community, like queer people of color. 
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