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During Small Business Month, two Racine businesses were recognized as Small Business Administration (SBA) award winners for the state of Wisconsin. On May 23, state representatives, community leaders and small business owners gathered at CoveredCare to celebrate the achievements of Donisha Nesbitt of CoveredCare and Marie Watkins of Polaris Talent as women-owned business owners. Nesbitt was awarded the 2022 SBA Wisconsin Emerging Small Business of the Year award while Watkins took home the SBA Wisconsin Women in Business Champion award.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason, Congressman Bryan Steil, Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Wisconsin District Office Eric Ness, Regional Administrator of the Great Lakes Region for the SBA Geri Aglipay, Tammy Baldwin representative Christopher Bogan, and Ron Johnson representative Ginger Kollmansberger were present for the event. Additionally, Heather Lux, Senior Project Director, of WWBIC, who nominated the two small business owners for the awards was present.

According to Ness, in the Racine area, “almost 94% of businesses are small, and they employ more than 51% of the workforce. This does not include non-employer businesses. We’re seeing (the) area’s small business employing more than 37,000 people and generating more than 1.4 billion in revenue each year.”

Among those businesses are CoveredCare and Polaris Talent.

About CoveredCare

Nesbitt started CoveredCare, which provides non-medical in-home caregiving, in 2015. When starting her business in Racine, she had the desire to address three concerns.

Small Business Administration
CoveredCare owner Donisha Nesbitt and Congressman Bryan Steil – Credit: Emma Widmar

First, Nesbitt focused on matching compatible care providers to individuals in need of in-home caregiving. She developed a matchmaking system similar to those of dating websites, to match clients in need with a caregiver of their choice. Secondly, Nesbitt wanted to target the guilt associated with being a caregiver. And last, she set out to be a resource that provides specialized services to meet specific needs in the Racine area.

Since first starting the business, located at 1006 Washington Ave., they’ve grown both in staff and revenue while providing to meet these three needs.

“I was a one-woman show when I first started,” she reflects. “To look at where the business has grown from those days until now, we have employed about 1800 people. Most of our caregivers have been with us for at least three years.” She states about 85% of caregivers have been able to provide in-home services and helped expand her small business in Racine.

CoveredCare now offers respite care and Community Based Residential Facility and Passenger Carrying Vehicle training to help make staff more employable. On top of her accomplishments, she works with SBA partner, WWBIC (Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation) to help lead economic development in the area. Nesbitt provides training and one-on-one advising; she also participated in a WWBIC-run accelerator program and serves as a mentor and trainer. Additionally, Nesbitt is the owner of two other businesses and a member of her local Business Improvement District (BID).

Mayor Mason expressed his gratitude towards Nesbitt, “it’s great to be in the midst of a real-life example of a small business that’s putting your vision out there and trying to help the community.”

About Polaris Talent

Polaris Talent, a talent acquisition firm, was founded by Marie Watkins in 2017 after dedicating 25 years to corporate HR. She moved back from California to her hometown of Racine to start Polaris, which now reaches people globally.

Small Business Administration
Congressman Bryan Steil and Marie Watkins, owner of Polaris Talent – Credit: Emma Widmar

Watkins began her company as a way to assist women and minorities in taking their entrepreneurial ideas from a vision to reality. Now, that idea has grown and expanded by helping all businesses achieve more through their recruiting services and strategic HR consulting.

She sees her mission as lifting others up and being part of the solution in breaking down barriers. Polaris Talent is two-thirds female-owned. Her approach? “I’m not a man, I’m not going to do the hustle and grind. I’m not going to run a patriarchal business. I’m going to do it with intuition and kindness and empathy,” said the entrepreneur.

She primarily works with small to mid-size tech firms. These firms pay a monthly fee in exchange for all-inclusive workforce development and business planning. The company started with just three employees and has grown to seven. What’s more, she has increased its earnings sevenfold.

Recently, Watkins applied for B Corporation status (certifying companies for their positive social and environmental performance). She and her employees are supported in volunteering at least 20 hours annually. Watkins has been a speaker and has provided many hours of one-on-one mentoring for the WWBIC, Gener8tor and several educational organizations.

During COVID, Polaris used an SBA COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and grant to navigate the financial hardship brought about by the pandemic.

“We hit almost a million dollars last year during COVID from Racine,” Watkins said. “This town is amazing. It’s why I came back, as well (as) why I put my business here.”

Growth in Racine through Small Businesses

“It’s really fitting that both of our small businesses today are diving in, both probably challenged by finding people to work for you, but you’re also out there trying to solve other people’s challenges as well,” shared Congressman Bryan Steil, a Representative for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.

These two business owners are supporting the workforce for tomorrow by providing jobs. In Racine, these two businesses are helping others to support their families and generating work in the community. It is for their success and community dedication that they have been recognized.

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