Written by Nick O’Brien
10/16/17 UPDATE: Please note that this article was published when Nick O’Brien served in the role of Community Engagement Specialist for MCDEVCO, Inc.
There’s a new kind of soup in the community, but it’s not being served by a restaurant, a food truck, or even a kitchen, but rather by MCDEVCO—the county’s economic and community development corporation.
So, what’s Wausau SOUP all about?
Wausau SOUP is the county’s newest source for gaining exposure, support, and funding for creative community projects and niche startup businesses.
While most soup recipes consist of water, stock, veggies, meat, and spices, the primary ingredients for Wausau SOUP are ideas from creative residents and the community members who support these ideas.
The second edition of MCDEVCO’s community micro-granting initiative will be served up on Thursday, February 2, inside the recently vacated West Side Battery building on 1st Avenue in Wausau.
Doors at Wausau SOUP II will open at 6:00 p.m.
The innovative funding initiative, coordinated by MCDEVCO’s Community Engagement Department, began in October of 2016 with a launch event at The Wausau Club in downtown Wausau. A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 150 community members gathered at the 115-year-old vacant building to support four community-enhancing projects being led by engaged citizens wanting to help build an even better place to live, work, and play.
By the end of the first Wausau SOUP dinner, county residents had come together to raise $780 for a community health project called Open Streets. The fund-winning project aims to promote healthy activities (such as walking, biking, and skating) while also giving the opportunity for community members to see a section of Wausau city streets from a different perspective.
Other projects presented at the launch of Wausau SOUP were a riverfront performance stage, a community compost garden, and a farm-to-table educational youth program.
Since the first SOUP dinner in October 2016, more than $15,000 has been raised to support those projects, one of which (a riverfront stage) is now 100% funded, thanks to a generous grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin.
This new funding initiative sounds great, you’re thinking, but how does it work?
The process starts several weeks before a SOUP dinner, when MCDEVCO releases a project/business proposal form to the public asking community members to submit their ideas for the chance to present on SOUP night. Proposals can be related to virtually anything that will enhance the living experience in Marathon County. Eligible projects are generally in the areas of:
- Art and culture
- Placemaking and tactical urbanism
- Urban agriculture
- Community events supporting a cause
- A unique startup businesses to fill a gap in the business community
The goal is to provide exposure, support, and funding for citizen-led projects that are challenging to fund through typical channels.
A few weeks before each SOUP dinner, the proposal pool closes and the submitted projects go through a selection process and are eventually narrowed down to the best four, which will be presented on SOUP night. The “ideators” of the selected projects are notified that they will be presenting in front of an audience of community members to garner support for their project.
On SOUP night, MCDEVCO hosts a public dinner with soup and bread donated by local restaurants and bakeries. Upon arrival at the event, attendees are asked to donate at least $5 cash, which buys them a soup dinner and gets them a voting ballot.
Throughout the event, attendees are exposed to live music from local musicians as well as exhibits from local artists and they’re encouraged to mingle with fellow community members.
The four projects are pitched to the audience, with the presenters abiding by two rules:
- Presentations must be no longer than 4 minutes.
- Presentations cannot involve technology (such as PowerPoints or video).
Following each presentation, the audience can ask the project ideator up to four follow-up questions. Once all four presentations have been given, the soup and bread are served while attendees engage in conversation and positive debate about which project they feel will be the most beneficial to receive SOUP funding. The ballot box opens and attendees then vote for the project of their choice.
Toward the end of the event, the votes are counted and the project that received the most votes is awarded with all of the money raised at the door to help carry out the completion of the project. The ideator of the winning project is then required to return to a future Wausau SOUP dinner to provide updates on the progress of their project.
Wausau SOUP is providing Marathon County with a safe and open environment to encourage creative residents to share their ideas and garner support for the projects they want to see happen.
According to MCDEVCO Community Engagement Specialist Nick O’Brien:
“SOUP is an incredibly powerful movement for our area. This initiative gives ordinary members of the community a unique opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the place they call home. Whether you’re pitching a project or simply attending a SOUP dinner to vote for and fund a fellow citizen’s project, you’re helping build a better place to live. It’s the epitome of community members supporting other community members.”
To put into perspective just how powerful SOUP crowd-funding can be, take the original SOUP initiative into consideration…
The SOUP concept started a little more than 5 years ago, in Detroit, Michigan. Since then, Detroit SOUP has raised more than $120,000 over the course of 135 dinners throughout the city. Wausau SOUP was inspired after O’Brien met with the founder of Detroit SOUP following a SOUP dinner in La Crosse. Since April 2016, several more SOUP initiatives have launched in Wisconsin communities such as Green Bay, the Fox Cities, and Sheboygan. O’Brien explained:
“Meeting with Amy Kaherl, Detroit SOUP’s originator, helped me realize how impactful community micro-granting can be. I quickly recognized that this type of initiative is something the Wausau community is thirsting for, especially when our focus is on attracting a retaining a young and talented workforce. All over the world, millennials are moving into cities striving to make an impact not only in their professional life, but also in their community. SOUP is the perfect opportunity for ambitious, creative, and impact-minded individuals, as well as for the communities who want to support them. It’s truly a win-win for the community.”
So, if you’re interested in supporting local ideas, people, music, art, and restaurants—you won’t want to miss Wausau SOUP II. Community partners for Wausau SOUP II include: The City of Wausau, Urban Street Bistro, Polito’s Pizza, HappyMac Digital Electronics, Malarkey’s Pub, Compass Properties, and more!
A minimum donation of $5 cash gets you a meal, a voting ballot, and the chance to support the next big community project! Learn more at our Wausau SOUP II Facebook page.
Community Engagement Specialist | MCDEVCO, Inc.
Nick O’Brien began his duties with MCDEVCO, Inc., in 2016, as the organization rolled out its new community engagement department. His primary role as Community Engagement Specialist is to connect people, places, and purposes in the community to each other. After his move to Marathon County from Illinois in 2012, he spent nearly 2½ years with WAOW-TV 9 as a sports anchor/reporter, followed by more than a year managing a young professionals initiative for the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce. In the last 2 years, Nick has organized more than 35 community events, including Wausau SOUP, Young Professionals Week 2015, and the Swap Meet, which connected young professionals from Milwaukee and Wausau during a weekend tour of the community. In the spring of 2016, he traveled more than 2,500 miles in 8 days to visit 14 Wisconsin cities and filmed a video to highlight the Young Professionals Week statewide initiative. When he’s not promoting community resources, people, and organizations, Nick loves traveling, seeing live music concerts, and playing sports.
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