On today’s episode of Brandstorm, we welcome Elmer Moore, executive director of Scale Up Milwaukee. Elmer discusses his organization’s powerful platform for business growth and how they plan to meet their goal of adding $1 billion in revenue to the community by the year 2020.
Elmer grew up in Baltimore, and also lived in Maine for nearly a decade. In 2013, when he moved to our area as Director of Business Development for men’s apparel line Allen Edmonds, Elmer says he found both Milwaukee and Wisconsin respectively like Baltimore and Maine. Elmer has a diverse résumé: He has been the Associate Dean of Admissions for a small liberal arts college, in charge of retail stores, worked in video post-production and audio recording, and is also currently an Entrepreneurship Instructor at Marquette University.
A 2018 winner of a Milwaukee Business Journal “Diversity in Business” Award, Elmer says that he has used all of his experiences from these varied positions in his role at Scale Up Milwaukee. He says he spends his days with people who own businesses or have the resources to help businesses grow, and he assists in making connections and being a cheerleader for growth throughout our area.
Scale Up Milwaukee
An initiative of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and supported by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Scale Up Milwaukee began in 2013. It convenes a small group of stakeholders (ranging from investors and private sector leaders to public officials and entrepreneurs) to develop actionable strategies for high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurship within the region. Through catalyzing inclusive economic development, Scale Up wants to see Milwaukee return to its rightful place at the forefront of the nation’s economy, due to the city’s rich history of growth and manufacturing.
Through a wide range of events and workshops where businesses encourage growth in each other and share ideas that have worked for them, Elmer sees Scale Up Milwaukee’s goal of injecting $1 billion of revenue into the area by 2020 as completely within reach, due to the numbers they’re currently seeing. To date, approximately $270 million has been brought into the local economy by the 60 companies that participated in the Growth Accelerator, Scale Up’s flagship program. Elmer mentions that these numbers do not include revenue from their other various programs, and that there is a lagging indicator for incomes, as well as real estate and community development, that will change the region in material ways for years to come.
Scale Up Milwaukee’s model for fostering entrepreneurship is based on that of Daniel Isenberg, a former venture capitalist, and current angel investor and Professor of Entrepreneurship Practice at Babson College Executive Education. As Elmer explains, Daniel’s model is about the interaction between different categories of business (hiring entities, financial institutions and more) and how a process-driven approach to interacting with these companies as people in order to encourage aspiration and growth ultimately leads to shared success. Daniel has found that growth is achievable once it becomes a cultural concern for all parties.
As Elmer explains, the challenge is two-fold: Scale Up Milwaukee wants to get lawyers, bankers, accountants and consultants to think of themselves as being chiefly responsible for the growth of their clients, and in turn, they want clients to feel that it’s necessary to find these same people, who are willing to be agents for their growth. Instead of introducing a business owner to a bank, Elmer says Scale Up would introduce that business owner to a specific banker that they know would be a great fit.
Scale Up Milwaukee Programs and Membership
Scale Up Milwaukee offers the following programs to its members:
- Meet the Masters Series — Highlighting the strategies and tactics used by seasoned entrepreneurs to scale their companies. These events are conducted as a one-hour interview with a small audience and have included Craig Culver of Culver’s Restaurants, Giacomo Fallucca from Palermo Villa Inc., and Sue Marks of Cielo Talent.
- Growth Accelerator — Teaching business owners the practical skills to inject growth into their ventures, focusing on sales and marketing, organizational development and entrepreneurial finance.
- Sparc — Launched in 2017, Sparc provides access to resources that the smallest of businesses and minority or female-owned businesses normally do not have. These businesses usually range from $100,000 to $1 million in annual revenue.
- CEO Forum — Engages large company CEOs to discuss their growth concerns with others. Growth Accelerator companies are sometimes invited to witness these forums, so that they can know that their growth concerns are often the same as those who own some of the largest companies in Wisconsin.
- Membership Meetings — Quarterly events connecting entrepreneurs, business owners and C-Suite executives to help formulate working plans to solve growth challenges.
Scale Up Milwaukee’s membership fees not only keep their business model afloat but also create a select community of growth-ambitious people who are either entrepreneurs or providing generous resources. Businesses with an annual revenue of under $10 million pay a yearly membership fee of $1,000 while those with an annual revenue of over $10 million pay $3,000. Membership provides access to all of Scale Up Milwaukee’s programming (including round table discussions and consulting services), and twice a month, Scale Up provides open office hours for companies to book time and get help in managing their growth challenges. Elmer and his team call this type of networking between people and companies “resource connecting.”
Success Stories and Ideal Types of Businesses
When asked if there is a particular type of business that is ideal for enrolling in Scale Up Milwaukee, Elmer says that “ambition” is truly the key. The organization is both industry- and segment-agnostic, and although their various programs are based around some general criteria, someone who is excited to let their ambition be contagious within the group is always a great addition.
Discussing Scale Up Milwaukee case studies, Elmer points to both Central Standard Craft Distillery and Fyxation Bikes. During the several tours of Central Standard’s liquor distillery that Elmer took, he had engaged in conversation with Co-owner Pat McQuillan about Scale Up’s programs and mission. A former banker who knows business, Pat was challenged by other businesses during the process, as each owner would often share new contracts, orders or distribution details they had received from Fortune 100 and 500 companies. Elmer says that the goals of Pat and his team have shifted because of that encouragement and now Central Standard has both a tasting room and an expansive plant. Their liquor is also now available at Miller Park.
With Riverwest’s Fyxation Bikes, Elmer describes how their corporate program — where large companies receive Fyxation bicycles for giveaways, perks or contest prizes — jumped from providing 3-5 bikes at a time to growing by 200%. Elmer says that this leap can be attributed to the camaraderie Fyxation felt having other businesses cheering them on at Scale Up Milwaukee.
Scale Up Milwaukee’s Role in Foxconn
The campaign for the state of Wisconsin to secure a new production plant for Foxconn, a multinational electronics contract manufacturing company, has been the largest economic development initiative in American history. Elmer recognizes that the accepted deal — brokered by the WEDC, one of Scale Up Milwaukee’s biggest supporters — is huge and will have repercussions for years. Elmer says that Scale Up Milwaukee’s role within this deal will be to help companies sell to the area better.
He indicates that the value chain and economic impact go far beyond Foxconn’s supply chain, so that when a few thousand jobs are created anywhere, questions have to be asked such as, “Where will those employees eat lunch?,” and in turn, “Who will supply the bread for those restaurants?” or “Who will provide the bags for that bread?” Elmer says not all companies are prepared or even know that they should be going after this eventual business, but these same companies need to get ready immediately in order to do so. Other large development projects, like the new Wisconsin sports arena and the Milwaukee streetcar, are great opportunities that can be captured and leveraged to have enormous community impact.
Roadblocks to Growth
When asked about roadblocks that companies have with potential growth, Elmer provided two answers: one from his role within Scale Up Milwaukee and another from his personal view. On the Scale Up Milwaukee side, he sees a lack of ambition being a roadblock. He admits he is “an obnoxious east-coaster,” and that the idea of being Midwestern nice can stunt the growth of not only a company but also a community. He says that when companies say that they’ll be the best manufacturer or provider or facilitator, that terminology changes the way they operate.
Outside of his Scale Up Milwaukee role, Elmer says that human capital is often a barrier to growth. Though he meets a lot of company owners who state that they need money, the true challenge is accessing talent. Elmer says that organizations need to learn how to find, assess and utilize those in the workforce who can best benefit them.
- Growth Accelerator Launch Party
- @ Central Standard Craft Distillery
- 2330 W. Clybourn Street
- Thursday, June 7th; 5pm – 7pm
Attendees will be able to meet the newest Growth Accelerator cohort, catch up with Scale Up alum and mingle with other business leaders.
- Celebration of Growth
- @ University Club of Milwaukee
- 924 E. Wells Street
- Wednesday, July 25th; 7:30am – 9am
Awards will be presented, coupled with multiple growth stories honoring and illustrating the impactful growth that each individual organization has on the region and beyond.