Rev-Up MKE finalists prepare to pitch their Near West Side business dreams

Rev-Up MKE finalists prepare to pitch their Near West Side business dreams

Jameelah Love has a goal of making her Merrill Park neighborhood a place where she can live, work, eat and play.

As one of the finalists in the Rev-Up MKE small business competition, the certified nursing assistant and Milwaukee native hopes to check off the “work” and “eat” parts by opening her own brunch cafe.

“I can’t stop smiling, and I probably look crazy to other people, but my face keeps turning up. I can’t stop it. I feel more inspired about life than I’ve ever felt before,” Love said.

Rev-Up MKE is a live pitching event in the style of the “Shark Tank” television show. Entrepreneurs will share their ideas for a small business in front of a panel of judges and audience and can win cash prizes and in-kind services to help them open a storefront on the Near West Side.

“The cool thing about this is that it’s ‘Shark Tank’ on a local level that is happening inside this neighborhood where you can see the tangible businesses in this community that have come out of that process,” said Kelsey Otero, Marquette University’s senior director of community engagement, who has coordinated the competition since its inception in 2015.

Near West Side Partners, the organization that hosts the event, announced this year’s five finalists will be pitching their ideas at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13 at The Rave/Eagles Club during Near West Side Week.

The business ideas include:

  • A culinary education program for youth and young adults from former Rev-Up winner Lisa McKay of Lisa Kaye Catering.
  • Chyenne Candles by Chyenne Stanley, an all-natural candle business that would also host candle-making workshops.
  • Backyard Flava by Dexter Williams, a takeout restaurant expanding on the current BBQ food truck.
  • Wellness Spa by Brittney Rodriguez, a spa and cafe offering wellness services and locally sourced goods.
  • Ambrosia Cafe by Jameelah Love, a brunch restaurant with fine dining influences and a variety of options.

Before they can hit the stage, a lot goes on behind the scenes.

The entrepreneurs get training and support from Otero and business mentors through Near West Side Partners to make sure their business plans are feasible and that they’re ready to answer questions from judges.

To prepare for pitch night, Love meets with Otero and Tom Avery of Avery Consulting Group. Avery provides business consulting services for Near West Side Partners to help finalists.

He started with a consulting contract at Marquette’s 707 Hub, which puts on similar business competitions, and got connected to the Near West Side.

“My role with Near West Side is more formal now than what it was in the past, which I really like because I love working with neighborhood people,” Avery said. “I’ve met so many … hardworking, dedicated people and those are the kind of people you want to help.”

Avery had Love write a full commercial kitchen equipment inventory with the prices of each item if bought new.

“He helps you map out the realistic version of what it means to start a business, which is extremely helpful,” Love said.

Avery has direct experience as a business owner, many years of advising other businesses and knows how to “talk bank.”

When poring over Love’s business plan and sales forecast, Avery and Otero check the math used to determine key figures such as gross sales and net profit. They explain what a bank might say.

Love wants to locate her cafe in a building in Merrill Park that has been sitting empty for 40 years, which would be costly to renovate.

“So, Tom actually made me make two business plans: one of them is assuming that I have to lease a space and the other one is assuming that I can get the space renovated,” Love said.

Rev-Up MKE works with entrepreneurs during and after the competition to figure out how to find and set up a customizable space, since the process can be complicated and lengthy, Otero said.

“We also connect the entrepreneurs that are finalists with other resources based on their needs, so sometimes that might be marketing, architecture, legal services, connecting with a bank to understand what loan terms could look like,” Otero said.

The winner selected on pitch night will receive a $10,000 cash prize; $25,000 in in-kind services; and advertising and recognition from Near West Side Partners.

The second-place winner will receive $4,000 and in-kind services as needed, and the audience’s choice for the winner will receive $1,000. The cash prizes are contributed by Town Bank.

Though not all contestants will win prizes, they will continue to receive support from Near West Side Partners because the goal is creating a thriving community of entrepreneurs, Otero said.

“The value of that community helps increase the value of your business, and so they have to be involved as well,” Love said. “I just want to get the word out there. This is my vision. This is what I’m working on. Come help me.”

Learn more about Rev-Up MKE’s finalists and live pitch event.