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Bob Breneman, Mayor of Wooster, saw a need in his close-knit community. He wasn't alone.
Several years ago, Mayor Breneman and members of City Council began identifying ways to encourage and nurture entrepreneurs in the college town. Committed to the idea of supporting small businesses, the Council needed to find a way to make it work for the community. Chris Schmid, a member of the Wooster Growth Corporation and former JumpStart board chair, recognized the synergies between the regional venture development organization and what Wooster was trying to accomplish. In December 2010, years of planning came to fruition with the launch of the Wooster Opportunities Loan Fund. Mayor Breneman spoke about benefits of a local source of capital for young high potential companies at the fund’s kickoff, saying, “New businesses are the lifeblood of any community. They build jobs.”
Among those in the crowd was young entrepreneur and Wooster native, Brian Boyer. While in college, he and a business partner developed ManuscriptTracker, a web-based software that automates the peer review process of academic journals. He came to show his support and see if the fund could support him. In July 2011, Brian received a check from the Wooster Opportunities Loan Fund and is using the money to hire a sales representative and get the product to market. “We had a prototype and a couple customers, but we needed just enough capital to get the ball rolling.” Providing resources to entrepreneurs like Brian so they can take a great idea and turn it into a competitive product is exactly what Mayor Breneman wanted to do. It’s an idea that also appealed to Cascade Capital Corporation. The economic development finance company committed $100,000 to the fund to expand its reach throughout Wayne County in September 2011. “We didn’t know of any other communities doing this when we started,” Mayor Breneman says. “JumpStart has been a great partner in helping us move forward and now entrepreneurs and other economic development leaders are seeing the advantage of local funds like ours.”
Helping Communities Invest in Their Entrepreneurs
JumpStart has helped Northeast Ohio communities launch four new sources of seed stage capital: Wooster Opportunities Loan Fund, Canton Entrepreneur Launch, Barberton Growth Fund, and Appleseed Microfinance. The newest members of the JumpStart Entrepreneurial Network provide more than $1 million in new capital.