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The State Of The StartUp In Wisconsin Looks Mixed

Nov 6, 2018

It's StartUp Wisconsin Week, with dozens of events around the state highlighting entrepreneurs in technology and other businesses. A newly released analysis finds the state of the startup is mixed here. 

According to Wisconsin Inno, which has been tracking venture capital deals with state companies, $186 million has been invested in 60 firms so far this year. The amount of money is up a bit from 2017, and the number of deals may soon equal last year. In Southeastern Wisconsin, 20 investments have been made for a total of $25 million. The dollar figure is down, but deal numbers are up. 

So, how does Wisconsin compare to the rest of the country when it comes to venture capital numbers? Wisconsin Inno Senior Editor Jim Dahlke says Wisconsin falls somewhere in the middle of other states in the U.S. "Kind of falling below places like Michigan, Arizona, Indiana, though performing better than places like Kansas, Tennessee, Nevada," he adds.

But Dahlke says venture capital numbers don't tell the whole story.

"You know, the question isn’t that Milwaukee isn't the best place for startups. It's, is Milwaukee a great place to build a startup? If you talk to entrepreneurs here, they'll say this absolutely is a great place to build a startup," Dahlke said Monday, to more than 100 people at a kick-off event for StartUp Week.

Ross Leinweber (center) speaks during a panel at a StartUp Week kick-off event.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

During a later panel, investors addressed what's holding Milwaukee back.

Ross Leinweber of Bold Coast Capital says the region is building a good foundation for more startups.

"What I do think the key question is, is will the community embrace it?  There's a certain risk-averse element in Milwaukee, in particular. And I think we need to move beyond that, take risks in a probabilistic, calculated way, and I think we can capitalize on some of those foundational assets we've built in the last three to five years," Leinweber said.

Another problem: The size of the average venture capital fund nationally is $84 million, while in Milwaukee it has been about $20 million. But, with the recent $100 million venture capital collaboration between Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, Advocate Aurora Health and Foxconn, that local average appears to be going up. 

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.

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