Sari Lesk

Milwaukee Business Journal reporter Sari Lesk and her team of O'Brien student interns investigated the struggles that Milwaukee entrepreneurs, many of them racial minorities, face when trying to access funding to start or scale their business. Many of those small business owners said they found themselves rejected by traditional banks, unable to overcome the underwriting criteria used to determine how loans are doled out.

Marquette students Quinn Faeth, Ziyang Fu and Bryan Geenen collaborated with Lesk on the series.

The first installment of the series was published in October 2022. Lesk's project reported that as the financial industry consolidates, banks close branches and more banks adopt automation. Industry stakeholders are raising questions and concerns about how entrepreneurs will finance their businesses. Those concerns are not limited to individual entrepreneurs. Whether small business owners can access adequate capital has implications for the community as a whole, rippling into the number of jobs firms can create and economic development in neighborhoods throughout southeast Wisconsin.

Her second piece examined the approaches taken to protect entrepreneurs as they move forward with growing a business and are not able to access resources from banks. The team also curated a resource guide of capital sources for small businesses in the Milwaukee area.

Works published to date:

October 21, 2022
An exclusive look at how the closing of more than 23% of Wisconsin's bank branches since 2009 could affect entrepreneurs' access to capital

October 28, 2022
Keeping the dream alive: Entrepreneurs turn to alternative sources of capital

October 28, 2022
Resource guide for capital sources for Milwaukee-area small business owners