Locally made popsicles, spring rolls and other innovations may just be the key to spurring growth on Milwaukee's near west side.
So hopes Near West Side Partners, an organization that wants to address the fact that business is not yet booming in that part of town. Next week, the finalists in a competition called Rev Up MKE, that was organized by the group, will make public pitches in an effort to win a unique opportunity to get their businesses off the ground.
Pete Cooney, owner of Pete's Pops, is one of the finalists. Coooney says his business is an idea he had three or four years ago. "I thought it would be really cool to bring fresh fruit popsicles to Milwaukee in really crazy interesting flavor combinations and be as local as possible, meaning buy local produce," he says.
He says his business is growing, and he'd like to keep the momentum. "Hopefully Rev Up MKE can be that [push], to go to the next level," he explains.
Trueman McGee, the founder and rollmaster at Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, is one of the other finalists. Before starting his business, he was an overweight sheet metal worker who was laid off, when started working out with tires to lose weight, eventually becoming a personal trainer. It was his work as a trainer that inspired him to start his business. "I realized that people wanted to eat healthier as well as work out, so I started making meals for my clients," says McGee.
He explains that while on his healthy eating course, he ate a sweet potato burrito that set him thinking. "I don't know what happened, you can call it destiny, but I just said 'this would taste better in a spring roll,'" he says. McGee's family loved his new innovations, and he started adding additional flavors and selling them at farmers' markets.
Kelsey Otero works for Marquette University's Social Innovation Initiative and is planning the Rev Up MKE event. "All of the entrepreneurs in this competition are feisty and determined, and they're ready to grow their business," she says. "That also means that they're going to hire locally. They're going to hire people within the community, within Milwaukee."
All eight finalists will make public business pitches Tuesday evening at the Eagles Ballroom on Milwaukee's near west side.