A Downtown Madison organization that lifts up Black women and their business pursuits launched a training program last Sunday — at least 50 or more people flocked to the organization’s vibrant co-working space to see several Black entrepreneurs showcase their venture.

For the launch, the Progress Center for Black Women space not only bustled with 13 business owners seemingly anxious to tell the story of their enterprise in exchange for a small grant, but also several local leaders intent on lending an ear and and providing educational and financial support. Businesses pitched included home care practices, clothing lines with colorful patterns, skin care services, lash extension offerings, real estate and digital printing.

FOCUS — standing for fundamentals, opportunities, consistency, understanding and success — is a program designed to get participants “focused” on the key aspects of running their business in a supportive environment that meets entrepreneurs where they are at, said Sabrina Madison, Progress Center founding CEO. The goal, Madison said, is to provide masterclasses, technical training and mentorship to help connect Black business owners to what she called the city’s ecosystem.

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The program will eventually materialize in the form of 12-week cohorts, as well as standalone training that covers operations management, marketing, professional development and the mental health of the entrepreneur, Madison said. FOCUS will additionally involve opportunities to participate in small business showcases and gain connections to local organizations that prioritize the growth of Black-owned ventures.

It comes as the Madison area has made many strides in addressing the needs of minority-led businesses the last few years. It also comes after the Progress Center recently moved from its former space in Fitchburg to the Capitol Square in summer 2021 — and as what Madison called a “culmination” of the relationships she’s built with local entrepreneurs that date back to before she opened the Center nearly a half decade ago, having hosted a few Black Business Expo events.

Progress Center

Nina Akli, a lifelong Madison resident and owner of online clothing shop AfribbeanBaby, said she was surprised at how many people and leaders were at the launch. Akli said she appreciated the opportunity to network, and that she’s excited to eventually open a brick-and-mortar store.

But there’s still a long way for the city to go, Madison said, as several of the Progress Center’s clients have yet to fully tap into the city’s network of economic resources.

Nina Akli, a lifelong Madison resident and owner of online clothing shop AfribbeanBaby, said she was surprised at how many people and leaders were at the launch, where she talked up her business that sells African clothing for children. But Akli said she appreciated the opportunity to network, and that she’s excited to eventually open a brick-and-mortar space for people to purchase her intricately patterned pieces.

Some of the leaders that attended Sunday’s launch included representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.; city of Madison economic development department; UW-Madison’s Small Business Development Center; Downtown Madison Inc.; the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce; the Center for Community Stewardship; as well as business mentors and lenders. They served as pitch judges for the entrepreneurs — the winners were provided tiered grants funded by WEDC and the city.

Madison soap shop Restoration Soap and Body Care received a $1,000 grant. Madison grief support nonprofit Healing Our Hearts Foundation received $700. And Akli’s business and Madison screen printer DLK Printing both got $500.

Progress Center

At least 40 people were at the Progress Center for Black Women’s FOCUS launch last Sunday.


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