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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

During A 'Very Different World,' Wisconsin Startups Form Coalition

Chuck Quirmbach
The Wisconsin Startup Coalition was unveiled during this year's Startup Week.

Financial investment in Wisconsin startup businesses remains relatively low. So, some company founders, investors and others have formed a coalition to advocate for policies that improve the state's innovation ecosystem.  

It's not just that Wisconsin trails financial centers like California, Massachusetts and New York in venture capital, or VC, funding. Matt Cordio, of Skills Pipeline and Startup Milwaukee, says the Badger State badly trails the Gopher State.

"Even when you look at venture capital activity in Wisconsin compared to Minnesota, for every $1 invested in Wisconsin by VCs, Minnesota has $5. So, that's concerning to us,” Cordio said Thursday, on a webcast introducing the Wisconsin Startup Coalition.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
Matt Cordio, with Skills Pipeline and Startup Milwaukee, will co-direct the Wisconsin Startup Coalition.

Cordio will co-direct the coalition, along with Madison-based public affairs consultant Peter Welch. Welch said there should be bipartisan support for some changes.

"The first is investing in early stage investment. That could take many forms — looking at additional state incentives, addressing regulatory, or bureaucratic hurdles that entrepreneurs and investors face with the state of Wisconsin," he said.

Welch said a program run by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, called Qualified New Business Venture (QNBV), could also get a closer look. The program aims to improve investment in technology-based firms.

Lydia Zeller of the Madison health care startup Kiio is on the coalition's board of directors. She said COVID-19 may be changing what young companies need from the state.

"We are in a very, very different world from where we were a year ago. We need to make sure some of these programs really evolve to help support growth in a fast-changing world," she said.

Another board member of the startup coalition is Amanda DoAmaral of the Milwaukee-based online student tutoring company Fiveable. She said the state needs to go beyond discussing financing and look at ways to attract talent.

"Right now, a lot of people are leaving big cities because they're too expensive, and they're crowded, and you can work anywhere, and they're looking to find other cities,” DoAmaral said.

DoAmaral said none of her company's executive team is from Wisconsin, but now they have no intention of leaving. That could change, of course, depending on how the startup environment fares in Wisconsin during the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic, and whatever the new normal is after that. 

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