Two years ago, Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative, tapped UW–Madison to lead a local effort to produce innovative ideas that could increase the net income of 10,000 Dane County families by 10 percent. The competition is known as DreamUp Wisconsin, and is part of Schmidt Futures’ Alliance for the American Dream initiative.

In the first round of the competition, two DreamUp Wisconsin teams were funded. LIFT Dane is addressing fixable civil legal problems such as driver’s license suspensions, consumer debt, child support arrears, and criminal records that prevent Dane County families from advancing in the workforce, securing housing, and stabilizing their families. We Care for Dane Kids is addressing childcare problems that inhibit parents’ ability to work, especially women’s; cause businesses to struggle to retain good employees; create high care provider turnover because childcare workers earn very low wages; and make childcare programs struggle to earn enough revenue to remain open.

The university solicited proposals for the second round competition last summer. Seven semi-finalists competed in January for the opportunity to pitch their ideas to panel of Schmidt Futures Foundation judges on June 8th. The University of Wisconsin moved two teams forward to pitch to Eric Schmidt virtually on September 10, for the chance to win up to $1 million dollars each.

The Connect Rx and Opportunity Calculator proposals aim to reduce racial and ethnic economic disparities and increase the net income of 10,000 Dane County families by 10 percent in the next two years. I am so pleased that these teams are not competing against each other and each could take home up to $1million.

These are complicated projects developed with many partnerships extending well beyond the City and UW-Madison. Some of those partners include Dane County Health Council, Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, United Way of Dane County, UW–Madison Population Health Institute, the n, Workforce Development Board South Central WI, Latino Academy of Workforce Development, and the Urban League of Greater Madison and the Employment and Training Association.

Connect Rx uses a universal screener for economic and social needs that coordinates, tracks, and responds to the self-identified needs of vulnerable families in Dane County by connecting families to a network of services using Electronic Health Records and automated referral and follow-up systems.

Opportunity Calculator is a smartphone-optimized confidential tool to help workers reclaim their career advancement by providing the information, tools and resources workers need to advance. It starts with a net income calculator that uses publically available government benefits eligibility information and incorporates the user’s wages and employer benefits in order to model true net income scenarios of different employment and training opportunities.

The City of Madison staff were part of the team that developed the Opportunity Calculator and I am proud of our involvement with a diverse set of partners including nonprofits, workforce development organizations, the entrepreneurial community, and employers. This team is committed to advancing racial equity in Dane County's economy. We are determined to do that regardless, but this assistance from Schmidt Futures would be a wonderful addition.

I agree with Urban League of Greater Madison’s President & CEO Ruben L. Anthony, Jr. who states “The Opportunity Calculator will fill a tremendous void for our clients, our community, and any job seeker who is struggling to advance into the middle class and looking for the information and navigation tools to ignite their career advancement plan.”

The competition is not over and we won’t know until this fall whether this work will result in greater economic opportunities for the entire area, but I really want to congratulate the teams involved.

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