Near West Side Partners names Rev-Up MKE winner in business contest

Rev-Up MKE, a competition aimed at encouraging business startups on the city’s near west side, has named Vertical Essence Dance Company its winner for 2022.

The competition culminated Wednesday night with a live pitch event at the Rave/Eagles ballroom where five finalists presented before a panel of judges. Sponsored by the nonprofit Near West Side Partners, along with representatives from Marquette University and Town Bank, it seeks to support entrepreneurs and fill empty storefronts. 

“The near west side has been home to some incredible startups,” said Keith Stanley, executive director of Near West Side Partners.

“Based on the great ideas and high-quality applications we received for the return of Rev-Up MKE this year, it’s clear that there continue to be motivated small business owners that want to call the near west side home.”

Vertical Essence Dance Company owner Candanisha Bishop will receive $10,000 in cash and $25,000 of in-kind services such as small business mentoring, advertising, and architectural assistance.

The nonprofit “will join the ranks of some of the world’s greatest start-ups located in the near west side — startups that are now recognized iconic brands like Harley-Davidson and Molson Coors,” Stanley said.

The finalists and other contestants can also receive help from Near West Side Partners in its efforts to revitalize neighborhoods bordered by I-43 on the east, the stadium freeway on the west, Vliet Street and Highland Boulevard on the north, and I-94 on the south.

About Vertical Essence Dance Company

Vertical Essence Dance Company engages young people in a positive, creative manner. 

Bishop, an English teacher at Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, has an extensive background in dance education, theater, and the performing arts. A graduate of Saint Joan Antida High School in Milwaukee, she’s a former actress, singer and dancer in the Black History program, “We are the Drum.” 

Bishop said one of her goals is to find a permanent location so that she can offer more classes and activities.

“I’d like to have a place where my alumni dancers can come back and share the things they’ve learned,” she said. 

Finalist: Jvest Beauty

Briana McQuay was one of the finalists for her business, Jvest Beauty, that specializes in hair, skin and nail products for women of color. Jvest Beauty was named the competition’s runner-up and recipient of $4,000 in start-up money. 

McQuay is seeking a permanent storefront for the business which had been at a kiosk in Mayfair Mall and currently operates online. 

“The traditional shopping experience is still valued in the cosmetic world,” she said.

McQuay was a radio show host before starting Jvst Beauty. Growing up in Milwaukee, she realized the need for a store that focused on beauty products for black women.

“I remember feeling like a commodity anytime I went into a local beauty supply store that was owned by someone who was not a person of color and of not being able to ask them about certain products because they wouldn’t have them. That left me to feel unseen, unheard,” McQuay said.

She hopes to make Jvst Beauty an international brand like the Sephora chain that has hundreds of stores. 

“I want this to be a movement for young women across the United States and eventually across the world,” she said.

For now, McQuay’s focused on Milwaukee’s near west side.

“There’s so much beauty in those neighborhoods,” she said.

Finalist: The Pop Up

Local restaurant owner Mario Diaz Herrera was a finalist for his idea to create a commercial kitchen, called The Pop Up, that would be a platform for food entrepreneurs to sell their products online and would have a drive-up window for order pickups. 

Diaz Herrera, known for his Triciclo Peru restaurant in Milwaukee, said he wants The Pop Up to be affordable for food startups. 

“There are only a few commercial kitchens in Milwaukee, and they’re expensive and hard to get into,” he said.

Finalist: Gray Jett Cafe

Vegans Shana Gray and Andren Jett Sr., owners of the Gray Jett Cafe, were also finalists. 

They’ve catered large events, had temporary locations, and are looking for a permanent site. 

“We break generational curses by fueling our bodies and legacies with clean eating. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we have to be healthier,” Jett said.

Finalist: Pressed Cafe

Finalist Shayvon McCullum’s Pressed Cafe aims to be a collaborative coffee hub that provides youth employment opportunities and an 18-month apprenticeship called Fuel Impact.

The business is an outgrowth of Secure Bridges, a nonprofit McCullum founded that’s focused on ending sex trafficking. Located at 35 N. 36th St., Pressed Cafe seeks to be a safe place for children and adults.

“We’re looking to open our doors toward the end of October,” McCullum said.

Pressed Cafe, Gray Jett Cafe, and The Pop Up, were each granted $1,000 provided by Sodexo Marquette, a caterer at the university. 

All three participants in the Featured Business portion of Wednesday night’s event went home with a cash prize as determined by audience votes. Vibez Creative Arts Space received $3,000. Atomix Logistics, $2,500, and Fruition MKE, $2,000.

It had been three years since the last Rev-Up MKE.

The return of the event was pivotal to Milwaukee’s small business community, said Jay Mack, president and chief executive officer of Town Bank.

“After many businesses across the country struggled and were forced to close due to the pandemic, programs like Rev-Up MKE provide a renewed sense of hope for the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Mack said. 

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