By Tom Still
MADISON – 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.
The “Why Wisconsin?” theme of the June 7-8 Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison is aimed at telling the story – actually, multiple stories – about why the state is the right place for businesses to launch, grow and succeed.
Some of the reasons are broad but not always well known. There’s more startup capital in Wisconsin today than five, 10 or 15 years ago; the state’s national and international connections are extensive; its K-12 schools, colleges and universities stack up well by most U.S. standards; natural resources such as land and water are abundant; the overall quality of life is high; the state over-performs as a hub for research and development; and it has a pool of talented people.
Other reasons are more specific and tied to stories best told by companies and people whose testimonials often resonate more deeply than simple facts and figures. Here are some of the stories that will be featured during the two-day conference at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center:
- Comply365. Kerry and Dude Frank launched their mobile enterprise software business in the basement of their northern Illinois home, but moved across the state line to Beloit, Wis., to expand. Today, it employs more than 70 people and its software is used by about 840,000 people in several major industries, including airlines.
- Bright Cellars. A little more than a year ago, Bright Cellars graduated from the Wisconsin-based gener8tor program after launching in Boston. With help from investors, the company committed to staying in Milwaukee, where the monthly wine club is at home in a beer city.
- Understory. This weather data and analytics startup was born in Whitewater and Madison, moved to Boston after graduating from gener8tor and is back in Wisconsin after raising a major round of financing. Find out why the company left, returned and is putting down Badger roots after raising $7.5 million.
- PerBlue. One might not expect to see an innovative gaming company in Wisconsin, but that’s exactly where you can find PerBlue. It grew from its roots on the UW-Madison campus to become the first mobile gamer to use GPS technology for a location-based, role-playing game.
- NeuWave Medical. Madison-based NeuWave Medical is a prime example of a homegrown company that has done what some economic development fishing expeditions fail to do: Reel in a big fish from a bigger pond. NeuWave’s acquisition by Ethicon is a happy ending that should continue to pay dividends for Wisconsin.
Those are stand-alone company success stories that emphasize why Wisconsin is fertile ground for companies that can launch here, move here, expand here, be acquired here and even move back here after nibbling greener pastures. Ten other panel discussions will build on the theme and offer hands-on advice.
The “Why Wisconsin” story will also be told by people who have lived and worked outside Wisconsin but who bring valuable perspectives to the state.
Erik Iverson will become managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in July with a track record as an intellectual property lawyer, a top manager at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a leader at the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle. He’ll touch on why Wisconsin has what it takes in the public and private sectors to help solve global health problems.
Patrick Quirk of California-based ORCA Equities is a leading example of a UW-Madison graduate who left Wisconsin after earning his engineering degree to pursue a career in software. Today, after a multi-billion-dollar string of company sales, acquisitions and mergers, he’s back to talk about the growth potential for Wisconsin’s software companies.
Evan Absher, the research and policy program officer for the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation, will talk about how Wisconsin can improve on its reputation as a place to start and grow a company.
Why Wisconsin? The answer is “why not” if you’re an entrepreneur looking for a place to launch, grow and succeed. There are no guarantees anywhere, but Wisconsin is becoming a better bet by the day.