Midwest Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: The Missing Pieces in Wisconsin


Read part 1: A Look at Michigan and Ohio
Read part 2: A Look at Illinois and Minnesota

In 2019, businesses in Wisconsin raised $204.8 million in 66 deals, which ranked 30th nationally. Thus, there is room for growth in this sector. As you can see, our neighbors are ahead of us in several benchmarks (see accompanying table).

State 2019 Investments Number of Deals National Rank
Illinois $2.2 billion 299 8
Minnesota  $1.2 billion 132 14
Ohio $961.7 million 147 16
Michigan $771.6 million 115 21
Wisconsin $204.8 million 66 30

To close the gap, we need to attract top-tier venture capital fund investment into the region, achieve a balance between financial performance and end-game strategic impact and increase the availability of professionally managed venture capital in the state. Examples of outside investments include:

  • Novel Growth Partners (Kansas) and Flyover Capital (Kansas) in Abodo
  • Bain Capital Ventures (Palo Alto) and Cultivation Capital (Chicago) in ImageMoverMD
  • Zetta Venture Partners (San Francisco) in EnsoData
  • Oaktree Capital Management (Los Angeles) in SHINE Medical Technologies

Wisconsin has resources in terms of university assets and state assistance. What’s missing from the proceeding list is the level of corporate involvement that states such as Michigan and Ohio enjoy. The solution for Wisconsin is that it needs to have a connected network of strategically focused investors, professionally managed venture capital funds and a portfolio of startup companies that mutually benefit from each other.

Corporate Engagement

Strength of University Assets

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was formed in 2011 to advance and maximize opportunities in Wisconsin for businesses, communities and people to thrive in a globally competitive environment. The WEDC doesn’t strictly focus on startups or tech, but it has supported $1.8 billion in capital investments.

State Assistance

The Center for Technology Commercialization helps early-stage, emerging technology businesses bring their ideas to market. Its Ideadvance Seed Fund program combines early-stage grant funding with business mentoring to develop ideas and potential businesses from University of Wisconsin System alumni, current faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs.

Established Trade Associations

Now in its infancy, the recently formed Wisconsin Venture Capital Association is striving to advocate on behalf of the industry, build investor interest and encourage entrepreneurship and participation in the venture capital asset class. Meanwhile, BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, which uses donations to fill the early-stage funding void, has been playing nicely in the proverbial sandbox, as evidenced in its resource guide.