Secrets from the Scalerator: How Three Businesses Scaled Up Fast

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    Leaders in Milwaukee began an initiative last year to spur economic growth by helping businesses in the region learn how to scale up. The payoffs are already coming and other metro regions ripe for revival are taking note.

    Yahoo Small Business reported here last year about the Rust Belt city’s “entrepreneurship ecosystem project” called Scale Up Milwaukee. Led by Babson College entrepreneurship professor Daniel Isenberg, the program has support from the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as funding from AmericanExpress OPEN for Enterprise: Coalitions for High-Growth Entrepreneurship. The AmEx program aims to foster high-growth entrepreneurship by giving select communities, starting with Milwaukee, the right resources and tools for a better entrepreneurial environment.

    Among the resources AmEx OPEN brought to Milwaukee last autumn was the Scalerator—a two-month series of two-day workshops designed to teach local ventures with revenues of between $500,000 and $3 million how to grow the business. American Express OPEN Brand and Advocacy VP Randi Schochet said at the time that AmEx was recruiting into the pilot Scalerator "businesses that are generating revenue and hungry to grow their companies.” According to AmEx research, Wisconsin business owners are “more growth-minded” than the national average, and Schochet said, “A mindset for growth armed with sales know-how may be what’s needed to help propel these businesses to scale-worthy status.”

    The training,taught by several Babson faculty, provided "an intense process of learning, practicing. and mentoring, including peer-to-peer mentoring, with ventures which have already passed the initial market test, which already have sales revenues, and at least the beginnings of an organization, demonstrated leadership capability, and a strong ambition to grow, but which, for some reason, seem to have plateaued," according to lead faculty member Isenberg (who explains the program in series of Google Hangouts here, here, and here).

    Twelve companies participated in the September and October trainings, and, just four months later, several have already met or exceeded the course challenge to grow their revenues by at least 15 percent in Q1 2014. In the series of stories that follows, Yahoo Small Business speaks with three Milwaukee-area small business owners about what they learned in the Scalerator and how they applied those lessons to grow their companies in the subsequent months.

    Stay tuned for the forthcoming three articles in the Profit Minded blog to find out:

    • How Advanced Chemical Systems in Franklin, Wis., scored a $100,000 sale the very month after the Scalerator training and increased revenues 16 percent in following three months;
    • How Hands on Garage in Milwaukee blew past the goal of achieving 15 percent growth in the first quarter this year by getting it done in the fourth quarter of 2013; and,
    • How Able Access Transportation of Milwaukee was able to fly past its own first quarter projection of 18 percent growth to improve its year-over-year revenues in January by nearly a third.
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