Northside Planning Council - NPC


Madison entrepreneurs become MarketReady as program begins

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By Oona Mackesey-Green
Northside News

Three months of community outreach, countless community partners, 83 applications, 51 business pitches and 30 acceptance letters later, the Madison Public Market’s MarketReady Program announced its first cohort this month.

For MarketReady participant Carmell Jackson, this moment is a culmination of years of work. Jackson owns Melly Mell’s, a local soul food favorite that closed its Southside restaurant several years ago and now runs as a catering business out of FEED Kitchens.

“I started cooking when I was working in the school district in the 1990s,” said Jackson. “It was a summer program for homeless students. That wasn’t my job but it was just a part of teaching. I’ve been cooking ever since then. It’s all in my blood. My parents have been selling food and doing parties all of my life. It’s something that I kept going.”

Some participants, like Jackson, will be expanding a current business through the MarketReady program. Others are pursuing new ideas for the first time. Mai Vang is a local farmer starting a business selling Hmong food that she will prepare using products from her farm and other local ingredients. One of Vang’s motivations for growing into a new venture is to create more jobs in the area.

MarketReady is built on the understanding that every business is as unique as its founder. Instead of bundling all 30 participants into a package to receive ready-made business services, each person will work one-on-one with a mentor to identify their needs and the resources best suited to meet them. The program also offers opportunities for peer supported learning. The cohort will meet regularly in small groups to share tips, frustrations and brainstorm solutions. The goal? To make every business “MarketReady” over the next two years.

The Madison Public Market is set to open in 2019 at the intersection of East Washington Ave. and First Street. Since an independent entity will run the Public Market and determine its tenants, there is no guarantee that MarketReady participants businesses will end up in the Market. While participants are eager for the opportunity to vend in the new space, MarketReady will also support them to pursue options such as food carts and brick and mortar retail spaces.

Some of the MarketReady cohort will participate in the upcoming Taste of the Madison Public Market event, designed to showcase some of the products that may find their home in the future Public Market. The event will take place on Oct. 11 from 5–8 pm at 945 East Washington Ave.

While the focus in the coming months will be on the 30 applicants selected to participate in the program, there is another story rooted beneath those headlines. It’s a story of more than 80 applications; 30 zip codes; six languages; and as many business ideas as people (and sometimes more). Whether entrepreneurship is their inheritance, passed down through generations, or they are the first of their family and friends to pursue business ownership, Madison is lucky to call itself home to countless of enterprising minds willing to take on the risks and rewards of small business.

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