Business Class: New Madison podcast aims to enhance Black wealth by mixing education, authenticity

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Participants join in on the “Black Currency” podcast.

This Business Class fortnight: They are part of Madison’s business scene by day, but podcasters and artists by night.

And they have a desire to meet their listeners where they are at; to discuss various financial topics relevant to the Black community without holding back. Having recorded six episodes so far, the “Black Currency” podcast most recently touched on the complexities of cryptocurrencies.

The episode received 264 downloads, the most the growing podcast has seen since its genesis in 2021.

Corey Whitmore, manager at WWMV-LP 95.5 FM — a radio station out of the Lussier Community Education Center on Madison’s West Side — and founder of Madison media enterprise Media 22; Opal Ellyse, director of multicultural business strategy at insurance firm CUNA Mutual Group; and Bradley Thomas, Promega marketing strategist for the biotech company’s North American region, make up the podcast’s roster of hosts.

Media 22 includes Studio 22, a space for recording and mixing, as well as Radio 22, the internet-based radio station that airs Black Currency, local events and hip-hop music.

Previous Black Currency episodes have discussed predatory lending, stocks, money management, real estate and retirement planning.

And guests have included Randy Webb, who is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Team Legacy Worldwide, a company that educates people about trading cryptocurrencies, as well as Dominic Johnson, managing director of Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee-based financial services firm.

But what separates Black Currency from other podcasts talking finance is that the hosts open up about their own past money mistakes, Ellyse said, which helps foster a deeper connection with listeners.

Whitmore said that principle comes from the hosts’ musical backgrounds — songs encourage vulnerability and trust among artists and audiences, he said. That’s been the idea since the podcast was first conceptualized in 2020.

Ellyse is a published poet, spoken word artist and emcee who has been performing and recording music in the Madison and Milwaukee areas since 2001.

“In multicultural business strategy, race and ethnicity is a big part of that,” Ellyse said. “Just knowing the huge wealth gap for Black people … how could we not talk about this stuff in a real way?”

Whitmore is the former owner and founder of Duce Duce Entertainment, an independent record label based in Milwaukee.

And Thomas, also an emcee like Ellyse, is a performing artist who has shared the stage with big names in hip-hop. He additionally works as a producer in Madison.

“Out platform is extremely friendly,” Thomas said. “There’s nothing corporate about it. We are trying to be as relatable a possible.”

What added to the motivation of starting a podcast, Ellyse said, is that the Black community has faced a lot of misinformation about financial topics.

Black Currency helps its listeners sort through what’s true and false without shame — the hosts learn new things along the way, too, she said.

Upcoming episodes might discuss entrepreneurs who come from unconventional backgrounds, as well as emerging business technologies and the future of finance itself, Whitmore said.

But no matter what topics are tackled, “we want folks to be empowered when it comes to their finances,” Elysse said.

Listeners can stream the Black Currency podcast on Apple, Google, Spotify and Audible. People can play back episodes on YouTube, and on the Radio 22 website.

Two mergers

A credit union located in DeForest and a Madison-based insurance firm have both announced mergers with other companies this year.

Heritage Credit Union said Tuesday its members have voted to approve a merger with Wausau-based Connexus Credit Union, which will finalize this August. Heritage was founded in 1934.

The merger is expected to offer the credit unions’ combined 420,000 members new digital banking features, including financial health tools, mobile wallets and online financial assistance, said Heather Ristow, Heritage chief operating officer.

It will also come with expanded hours, Ristow said, as well as investment services, health savings accounts, low-rate loan products and access to 6,000 shared branches and 54,000 surcharge-free automatic teller machines.

For Heritage employees, Ristow said “our combined organization will offer employees greater opportunities for continued development.”

Connexus and Heritage have 600 employees total, and $4.3 billion in assets.

As of Dec. 31, Neckerman Insurance Services merged with McClone Insurance, a company that has spaces around Wisconsin. Neckerman Insurance Services was founded in 1914 in Madison, and McClone in 1949.

“With this merger, businesses, families and individuals in Madison will have access to new services, carrier partners and resources,” said Sarah Munson, director of client engagement. “(Those) include employee benefits, human resources consulting, 401k service and a host of risk management resources.”

“All Neckerman employees are now part of the McClone team and will continue to service clients and the Madison community,” Munson added. “You will see some new faces added to the office. Combined, McClone now employees more than 125 team members.”

The financial terms of both mergers have not been disclosed.

  • Madison-based Invenra, a biotech company focused on the development of cancer therapies, has appointed a new chief scientific officer — Daniel Pereira.
  • “gBETA Urban League,” an accelerator program that caters to Black-led businesses put together by both gener8tor and the Urban League of Greater Madison, is expected to host its first webinar Monday. The webinar is slated to teach participants how to pitch their business to different audiences.
  • American Family Ventures, the venture capital arm of American Family Insurance, led a $60 million funding round for Hometap Equity Partners, a fintech startup located in Boston.

Emilie Heidemann picks her 5 favorite 2021 stories

One of the first stories I wrote this year for the Wisconsin State Journal wasn’t published last January, but instead at the beginning of September — when I officially took my post as business reporter.

It was about a biotech startup that won the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Pressure Chamber contest for the novel ways it was looking to prevent cancer — and a coronavirus infection. The week I wrote that piece was when I discovered the treasure trove of story ideas that made up Madison’s business community.

For example, the pandemic has spotlighted how partnerships are have seemed to be a favorable strategy for organizations looking to solve complex issues.

I covered that in an article regarding the State Street pop-up shops, or Culture Collectives. Several organizations came together to fill two vacant storefronts in the Downtown corridor, and simultaneously help minority business owners get their venture off the ground.

More ideas were spawned as I saw how Madison’s businesses continue to navigate hiring challenges, supply chain shortages and other trials.

But through all that, there’s been an apparent optimism for the future. 

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