11 Apr New Madison VC firm Badger Ventures looks for next big IT entrepreneurs
David Redick knows something about venture capital, having received plenty of it in his time as a telecom entrepreneur.
Now Redick, a longtime denizen of Silicon Valley and recent emigrant to Madison, has jumped to the other side of the aisle with Badger Ventures of Wisconsin, a nascent venture capital firm focused on providing early stage funding and management services to entrepreneurs in the information-technology sector.
Redick hopes to focus on Wisconsin-based start-ups. He already has jumped into the scene, serving as a judge for Governor Doyle’s Business Plan Contest this year and attending numerous conferences and meetings around the state since moving to Madison last August.
“I’m hearing all this talk about more high-tech jobs in Wisconsin … and I think I can help with that, because I’ve been there, done that, and most of the guys that are doing this in Wisconsin haven’t,” said Redick, who headed up now-defunct telecom carrier FiberStreet and attracted about $6 million in VC funding for it before the company became one of the countless victims of the telecom crash of early 2000. “They have never been a CEO or a founder of a venture-capital-funded start-up. Venture-capital-funded start-up is a mouthful, and it means you’ve got to have a team of founders and a business plan that’s good enough to attract money.”
“It means a lot to say you were a founder of a venture-capital-funded start-up,” he said. “You learn a lot.”
Badger Ventures, which Redick started less than a month ago with longtime Wisconsin businesswoman Camille Haney, will join the likes of Mason Wells, Frazier Technology Ventures in seeking the bright stars of the state’s IT future.
Venture Investors Partner Scott Button said the state lags in nearly all the indices that gauge the venture capital scene and welcomes news of another player.
“In general, there’s a lack of capital under management here,” said Button, who oversees his firm’s IT investing. “Anything we can do collectively to encourage the creation of more funds under management … is not only a win-win for us but for the entrepreneurial community.”
Redick has attracted no money for his fund as of yet, but that will come, he said. In the mean time, his experience tells him that there is promise here to develop the same kind of spirit that makes Silicon Valley tick.
“I hear how the Midwest is staid and conservative, and that’s OK,” he said. “But the government wants more jobs, so we need to pry it loose a bit. It’s worth working on, except it’s not the government that makes it happen. They can hand out money all day long, but it’s the spirit [that makes it work].
“The way I think I can help is having done it and having experienced that spirit and having been a successful CEO of a company with 50 engineers.”
Haney said she believes Redick has developed good instincts during his time in Silicon Valley and that the time is ripe for Wisconsin’s budding IT scene.
“There’s great support for start-ups through the University [of Wisconsin]; the governor is very supportive,” said Haney, who will act as adviser to Badger Ventures. “The stars seem to be in alignment. I just have a feeling this is where it’s happening. With venture capital and start-ups, you have to be a little ahead of the curve.”
Biotech and life sciences may get all the raves, but IT at UW-Madison is definitely not lagging in credentials, only in commercialization, according to Button. In fact, some would say computer science and engineering are five to 10 years behind the life sciences in the commercial arena, he noted.
“We have one of the leading research institutions in our backyard,” Button, a UW engineering grad, said. “You could argue there’s just as much cutting-edge research in computer science as in the life sciences on campus. The challenge is there’s a much longer history of entrepreneurism on the life sciences side. We have some catching up to do.
“Clearly there’s no doubt that one of the strengths of the university is life sciences, and they will continue to be, but there’s no reason we can’t bolster what’s happening in engineering and computer sciences.”
From a general standpoint, Redick has his eye on the true entrepreneurs with gobs of sweat equity invested in their companies who just need that one break.
“The question is, how do we get those guys to be in Wisconsin?” Redick said. “I’m not against trying a little bit of everything. My approach is going to be to dig up these guys and look for ideas. Sometimes I’ll have the idea and I’ll look for founders.”
“[Badger Ventures] will focus on firms that are likely to be Wisconsin-based and try to be part of the action with little or no government money,” he said. “I face the same challenge a founder does; I just happen to be founding a VC [company].”