In a room that was once little more than a storage area for largely unused equipment, the Waunakee School District is outfitting a space where students can explore their futures.
Dedicated this month at a breakfast that highlighted investments of time and money by community business leaders, the fabrication laboratory – or “fab lab” – within Waunakee High School is still a year or so away from being fully operational.
Already, however, students are using a laser engraver to turn out specially ordered drinking glasses for a wedding and on the horizon are more computer-operated machines, such as 3-D printers.
The longest-running investor pitch event in Wisconsin is the annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.
By one name or another since the 1980s, this conference has been giving entrepreneurs and young companies a chance to tell their stories to investors. It has helped fuel some remarkable success stories, with companies such as Promega, TomoTherapy, Virent, Mirus Corp., Sonic Foundry, Prodesse, NimbleGen, Nerites, Idle Free Systems, Third Wave Technologies, Stratatech, Sologear, PanVera, Soft Switching Technologies and many more taking the stage over time.
A creative provision in the Assembly Republican “Forward” agenda released in early September is the pledge to provide every high school freshman with a computer or tablet to connect them with the internet.
State policymakers might easily believe so-called “advance industry” jobs are purely a Madison or Milwaukee phenomenon and not really all that relevant to the rest of Wisconsin.
A recently released report from the Brookings Institution, a respected national think tank, dispels that myth by highlighting the importance of such jobs to cities outside Wisconsin’s “Big Two” metros.
The latest report from the Kauffman Foundation reaffirms what most people already know: Wisconsin as a whole is not a hub for starting and growing a business.
The key words there are “as a whole,” because while parts of Wisconsin are desperately short on startups and other emerging companies, parts perform above the national average.
In the global competition for economic prosperity, some places are positioned to perform better than others. That’s the natural order of things.
However, even those places with the tools to compete must remind others about the elements of their strategic edge. That’s not bragging, which many people in Wisconsin find hard to do, but marketing, which is essential in an ever-changing world.
Ken Johnson, the veteran Wisconsin investor who is a partner in the Badger Fund of Funds, has held true to his vision from the start.
Even before the Badger Fund of Funds was officially seeded in 2014 with a $25-million investment from the state of Wisconsin, Johnson described the early stage fund as “money for minnows” to be led by young, regionally focused managers.
In time, Johnson predicted, those 30-something managers would be seasoned enough to raise second and third funds – boosting return on investment for everyone, including the communities in which the funds were rooted.
Even the low-end estimates of connected devices in the world by 2020 is a mind-bending number.
Gartner, the technology research firm, pegs the number at 26 billion. Cisco Systems estimates 50 billion. Semiconductor giant Intel predicts 200 billion. International Data Corp. forecasts 212 billion.
To paraphrase the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen: A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real devices.
Here’s a fact that will likely surprise anyone who likes to joke, whine or fume about the weather in Wisconsin, which includes most of us: The sun shines over the Badger state more than half the time.
Depending a bit on where you live in Wisconsin, you can expect to see the sun shining 190 out of 365 days a year, counting days that are partly sunny. That’s not Arizona-like sunshine, but it’s not Seattle, either.
Tapping into the sun to produce energy is still a small part of Wisconsin’s overall energy mix, but it’s the fastest-growing component. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports Wisconsin ranks 30th overall among the 50 states in installed solar capacity and that $12 million was spent on solar installations in 2015, up about 70 percent from 2014.
MADISON – Wisconsin has a business startup problem. Despite the buzz in Madison and a few other communities, there are far too many places in the state where entrepreneurship is still just a fancy word versus economic action.
The reasons are somewhat easily explained: manufacturing and agriculture are capital-intensive and therefore not always startup-friendly; the labor force is slightly older and less educated than the U.S. average; rural Wisconsin is barely recovered from the Great Recession; and a low immigration rate works against Wisconsin because newcomers are more likely to start a business than native-born Americans.
MADISON – As recently as a few months ago, prestigious scientific publications were still questioning whether the potential for personalized medicine – diagnoses and cures based on the sequencing of the human genome – was close to being met.
“Are the huge promises made by (genetic scientists) more rhetoric than reality, or is there still hope for personalized medicine?” asked an Oxford scientist in the December 2015 edition of The Conversation, a British scientific journal.
MADISON – By the time the annual Governor’s Business Plan Contest boils down to its final round after several months of judging and mentoring, some tough cuts have already produced a competitive crop of startup ideas.
This year’s contest, the 13th annual, is no exception. Twenty-seven young companies are just one step away from pitching their plans June 7 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison, having survived two rounds of honing their business ideas.
MADISON – The secret to Donald Trump’s early success in the presidential campaign has been his ability to connect with voters who believe someone has already taken something from them … or soon will conspire to do so.
Whether the issue is Social Security, Medicare, immigration or the global economy, Trump speaks the language of the disaffected, which is no small feat for a wealthy real-estate developer who was born into privilege.
MADISON – A bill that emerged from the Wisconsin Legislature’s closing surge will allow the state’s education agency to award small grants to high-school robotics teams, with the money used to pay for kits, supplies, contest fees and the like.
It’s a modest amount of money – the state Department of Public Instruction expects to absorb the cost within its existing budget – but it could have a big payback for students seeking a hands-on introduction to a tech-based career.
MADISON – There are 115 universities in the United States that can lay claim to an “R1” rating from the national organization that ranks research institutions, and Wisconsin is now home to two of them – the UW-Madison and the UW-Milwaukee, which joined the elite Research Level 1 list in February.
That’s great news for Wisconsin’s two largest universities, and it doesn’t diminish the efforts of the state’s smaller colleges and universities – both public and private – that are fulfilling their respective academic missions to provide teaching, service and research.
Growth spurt in tech jobs: Wisconsin’s information technology economy kept growing in 2015, according to a sneak preview of the latest “Cyberstates” report from CompTIA, the nation’s largest IT industry trade association.
The state added 3,885 tech industry jobs – defined by Cyberstates as IT, research and development, testing and engineering services – for a total of 97,600 direct tech jobs. That’s good for 20th among the 50 states. The total is higher (149,500) when “tech occupation” jobs are counted. That term loosely describes non-tech-based jobs within technology companies, of which Wisconsin has 5,970.
People who often follow news from the state Capitol might easily conclude lawmakers are obsessed with debating “wedge” issues – topics that divide rather than unite Wisconsin.
Depending on your perspective, the Legislature is making government more efficient… or threatening clean elections and civil service. Lawmakers are keeping the streets safe for law-abiding citizens… or making it easier for guns to infiltrate school grounds. The Legislature is protecting property rights… or pillaging the environment. It is protecting the unborn… or turning scientists and researchers into felons.
WAUWATOSA – Atop a hill that overlooks the core of Milwaukee’s largest health-care hub sits a gleaming symbol of investment by the UW-Milwaukee and its partners in a different kind of university.
It’s the Innovation Accelerator, part of the surrounding Innovation Campus and a piece in the larger research and development puzzle at UW-Milwaukee, one of many Wisconsin campuses hoping to build stronger industry connections, incubate startup companies and train young entrepreneurs.