Just west of iconic Lambeau Field, in the shadow of the stadium that is home to the Green Bay Packers, a sparkling new building symbolizes the convergence of tradition and innovation in Green Bay.
It’s called “TitletownTech,” a 13,000-square-foot hub that’s home to 20 emerging companies, a $25 million investment fund, three main floors of tech space, and the dreams of entrepreneurs finding their way into northeastern Wisconsin.
As much as anything, TitletownTech is an example of how Wisconsin’s tech-based economy is not confined to strongholds such as Madison and Milwaukee and is taking root in cities seeking renewed economic identities in a world mutating.
TitletownTech also symbolizes a factor holding back this growth – the lack of major venture capital investments to take young companies past the seed stage to maturity.
At a meeting on Wednesday, those interested in a state budget proposal to launch a $100 million “fund of funds” to improve Wisconsin’s ability to attract more capital heard a glimpse of the how the fund would work to attract matching private dollars and strong private managers. Speakers also pointed out that while Wisconsin has a vibrant angel capital sector, it lacks enough venture capital to take young companies to the next level.
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Craig Dickman, managing director of TitletownTech and an entrepreneur who has started his own businesses, noted that the biggest capital gap is beyond the “seed stage” — generally defined as a few million dollars or less — and in the $5 million realm and way beyond. It’s the kind of investment that can transform a small start-up into a company that creates jobs and economic value in much larger increments. Investments in the tens of millions of dollars are often required for most life science companies, which is one of Wisconsin’s technology strengths.
Cory Nettles, co-chair of the Wisconsin Fund Coalition, investor and former Secretary of the State Department of Commerce, echoed this view. He noted that while local Wisconsin investors can take young companies so far, the state is underperforming when it comes to top venture capital dollars.
In fact, Wisconsin is home to only a third of 1% of all US venture capital, even though it represents nearly 2% of the country’s population.
Two companies in the TitletownTech portfolio served as examples of the need as well as the opportunity for emerging tech hubs such as Green Bay, which was bolstered with help from the Packers, Microsoft, UW-Green Bay, NEW North and d other players who want to see the region prosper.
- Strive is a digital care platform to support orthopedic patients, especially before, during and after procedures such as surgery. It was founded by an orthopedic surgeon who wanted to improve patient outcomes while saving money associated with return visits, over-medication and poor rehabilitation. Dr. Padraic Obma leads a team that has built a federally compliant platform that can integrate with major electronic health record systems, such as Epic and others, to help guide and monitor patients .
- ChemDirect is what co-founder and CEO Tyler Ellison describes as an “Amazon for chemical supplies.” A Wisconsin native, Ellison founded ChemDirect in California, but brought the company home after being encouraged by TitletownTech and terms and conditions in the state and Midwest. ChemDirect works with companies in need of chemicals, often for industrial or manufacturing purposes, offering them faster delivery and better prices.
These are two examples of a portfolio that includes other companies in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, agricultural technology, artificial intelligence, analytics, environmental mediation and more. yet – all within a block of Lambeau Field in the 45-acre “Titletown” district.
Other cities are seeing similar interest in tech innovation, including Beloit, Janesville, Kenosha, Racine, La Crosse and Eau Claire. However, once start-ups in these locations get past the seed stage, they may struggle to find funds to scale up.
Other states have created funds of funds to advance their innovation economies, including Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. As a result, Michigan is now the fastest growing state for venture capital investments.
Wisconsin can do the same, and it’s not just a Madison-Milwaukee party. Emerging Innovation Centers can help all of Wisconsin grow if they get help from a state-backed fund-of-funds.
Tom Still is the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Email: email@example.com.