RHINELANDER - Through a smartphone in Nancy Brekke-Jones' hands, she can access the business she literally built from the ground up.
"I took it in little chunks, just little step by step," Brekke-Jones said.
Her idea for helping people's feet started a couple years ago. Brekke-Jones opened "Replace-a-Lace" after working for a Rhinelander shoe store for 26 years. People who can't easily tie their shoes (elderly, disabled, and people with arthritis) can log onto Brekke-Jones' website to find Velcro-like closures she sells from her home.
"It's one of those garage businesses except it's at my kitchen table," Brekke-Jones said smiling.
Brekke-Jones went from her kitchen to Nicolet College Tuesday morning. That's where Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch announced a new round of grant funding that will help pay for business-starting classes Brekke-Jones took through the college last fall.
"I love the stories where someone is walking around with a light bulb above their head," Kleefisch said. "Take the light bulb from above their noggin and actually develop a business plan."
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation offered Nicolet a piece of $500,000 going to 11 groups across the state. Thirty-six groups applied for the funding this year.
"Nicolet College put up the numbers, they said we are really going to invest the $25,000," Kleefisch said.
Nicolet received $27,000 through the same WEDC grant program in 2017.
"We know these entrepreneurship grants are connecting people, regardless of where they live or what they look like to the resources they need," Kleefisch said.
Matching money from places like the Vilas County Business Incubator in Eagle River, the Juday Enterpreneurial Development Fund, and Nicolet College students themselves mean classes that Doris McAllister teaches can expand into more area towns like Eagle River.
"There are some great business ideas coming out of northern Wisconsin that I never would have thought of, so I get to encourage them and think of ways that i can help them," McAllister said.
McAllister was a student of the college program herself, starting her own jewelry business. She now is the executive director of Grow North, an organization that helps foster business growth across eight northern and northeastern Wisconsin counties.
"While not every business succeeds, we still have a road map that we can build on in the future," McAllister said.
Kleefisch points to that as a big reason Nicolet won the WEDC funding for the second straight year: its ability to spark creativity across all six of the area counties it serves.
Brekke-Jones knows just how valuable those classes can be.
"It's overwhelming at first, but really, when you see it's all laid out for you of how to write a business plan, it became very easy," Brekke-Jones said. "If you want to do something and you just put your mind to it you can do it."
Nicolet College will offer its NET entrepreneur class in Eagle River this year. The nine-week class is free if you live in Vilas County thanks to the grant funding. People who don't live in Vilas County pay just $100 for the course.
The college will also hold free workshops throughout the district. The next one is Tuesday, Jan. 30 from 6 - 7:30 p.m. at the Vilas County Business Incubator.