The conference, scheduled for June 3-4 in Milwaukee, is being organized by the Wisconsin Technology Council and its subsidiary, the Wisconsin Innovation Network. Organizers plan to turn the tables on a standard venture conference by giving entrepreneurs and other representatives of emerging technology companies the opportunity to hear what investors and big companies would finance – if they only could find the right ideas and people.
“The conference really is organized around that theme – trying to give entrepreneurs the tools they need and exposing them to some of the people who do have the money and are in search of the best people and best ideas,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. “There’s been a lot of VC (venture capital) pullback, but at the same time, while a lot of money is just parked right now, it’s just looking for the chance to get back on the freeway. I think we may be on the verge of doing that here in Wisconsin.”
Announcement of the conference Wednesday by Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Cory Nettles comes on the heels of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board’s announcement of a $100 million venture capital program. The two companies managing $90 million of those funds—Frazier Technology Ventures, Seattle, and R.W. Baird, Milwaukee—are planning to send representatives at the conference to sit on stage alongside those from several other companies, said Still, who added that if ever there was an event that a would-be Wisconsin entrepreneur had to attend, it’s this one.
“There is money that will be made available,” Still said. “That means entrepreneurs will have a renewed chance in this state to gain access to that.”
Nettles said the whole idea of the conference is to stimulate more entrepreneurial activity statewide.
“The Department of Commerce is proud to support this effort,” Nettles said Wednesday. “The conference will present a mix of strategies, tactics and tools to local entrepreneurs—the people who will create the knowledge-based businesses of tomorrow.”
And despite the state’s lack of new business activity – Wisconsin ranks 47th in new business formation among all states and 36th in venture capital investments – Nettles remains optimistic about the prospects.
“Wisconsin has great promise in technology and biotechnology, but we will not fulfill that promise unless we develop and entrepreneurial culture,” Nettles said. “We must work closely with our top-flight researchers to help them commercialize their discoveries and help them manager the risks of starting their own businesses.” Governor Doyle has proposed an Office of Entrepreneurship within the Department of Commerce to coordinate and implement assistance to entrepreneurs.
The conference also kicks off a yearlong focus on entrepreneurship, including the first Governor’s Wisconsin Business Plan Contest and the first Wisconsin Visionary Awards. It also marks the first public appearance in Wisconsin of Frazier, a company with strong ties to Microsoft. The VC firm will manage about $60 million of the $100 million SWIB is planning to invest in technology ventures statewide.
“I think it could help us turn the corner,” Still said. “The groundwork definitely has been laid to make more capital available in Wisconsin. What we need now is to connect the right capital with the right people.”
For more information on the Entrepreneurs’ Conference, contact tom Still at the Wisconsin Technology Council, 615 E. Washington Ave., Madison, WI 53703, 608-442-7557, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at email@example.com.