Get insights on technology, the economy and politics through "Inside Wisconsin," a weekly column by Tom Still.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.
Still serves on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Security Research Consortium and “We the People/Wisconsin," the UW-Madison College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board, and the WiSys Technology Foundation Advisory Board, among other civic and business groups. He moderated the Wisconsin Economic Summits (2000-2003) and "Inside Wisconsin" appears regularly in 24 publications. He is a lecturer in the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Still is the co-author of “Hands-On Environmentalism,” published by Encounter Books, New York.
May 10, 2013
Wisconsin has always had trouble getting economic development right. It spends less than comparable states, generally focuses on yesterday’s trends versus today’s, and allows partisan politics to color what should be a statewide concern: Smart policies to enhance company and job creation.
May 5, 2013
Entrepreneurs from a broad spectrum of Wisconsin’s startup economy told their stories at a news conference announcing bipartisan agreement on the bill, which would match $25 million in state dollars with private investment, and at a public hearing a week later. An Assembly committee is expected to vote on the proposal next week.
May 3, 2013
Striking a balance between the immediate benefits of the nation’s oil-and-gas bonanza and adopting new conservation and generation technologies is the crux of a new report by Gary Radloff, director of Midwest Energy Policy Analysis for the Wisconsin Energy Institute. A public presentation on the report is set for Monday at the Fluno Center on the UW-Madison campus.
April 20, 2013
Metro Milwaukee lost almost twice as many private-sector jobs in the decade of 2000-'10 as the average for the nation's 100 largest metro areas. What hurts most is not that metro Milwaukee's 6.8% job loss was well above the national average of 3.9%, but that a large share of those jobs were good jobs - with decent wages, benefits and some sense of security and opportunity until the bottom fell out. In short, they were middle-class jobs and increasingly difficult to replace in today's jobless recovery.
April 19, 2013
For Wisconsin, a growing supply of undergraduate researchers across Wisconsin means a better-trained workforce and more opportunity for investment and company startups.
April 12, 2013
Now in its 10th year, the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest has always been a canary in a high-tech coal mine. It provides an annual overview of the kinds of businesses emerging in the state’s tech sectors – as well as areas of relative decline. The list of 21 finalists for the 2013 competition, which will grow to two-dozen when top collegiate contests feed into the mix, is no exception to the rule. For state policymakers who are weighing how to best target a $25-million early stage fund envisioned by Gov. Scott Walker, the list is a harbinger of emerging opportunities.
April 6, 2013
Young, small companies create jobs by definition - even if most of them are one-person shops. While the five- and 10-year survival rate for young companies isn't high, there are enough new companies created every year to keep the process of "creative destruction" humming along. All small businesses are not created alike, however. There are four basic categories - three of which are not large-scale job creators, nor ever intend to be, and one that more than pulls its weight when it comes to churning out jobs.
April 5, 2013
Wisconsin ranks below average among the 50 states when it comes to high-speed Internet access, according to recent reports. A major reason for the state’s lackluster ranking is access in rural Wisconsin, where many telecom providers are trying to swap their historic commitment to land-line service to investments in broadband. Much like other communities across the United States, rural Wisconsin would benefit from enhanced broadband connections.
March 23, 2013
More than a year in the making, the 4490 Ventures Fund is a 50-50 partnership between Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and State of Wisconsin Investment Board, two organizations well-versed in the venture capital asset class. This fund is a breakthrough step for both organizations. It's not intended to replace anything WARF or SWIB is doing now in terms of early-stage investments. Instead, it has been established to invest in the kinds of promising information technology companies that can be found across Wisconsin.
March 18, 2013
Some observers wanted the UW-Madison to hire a business CEO, but that wasn’t likely to happen because of the internal constituency. Others wanted a pure science and tech chancellor, which speaks to the power of the UW-Madison’s $1-billion research budget. As an economist who understands the value of “big science” and the humanities, Becky Blank may walk the fine line needed on campus and beyond.
March 15, 2013
Across the nation, at least 34 states have either launched venture capital funds, created investment tax incentives or both to leverage private investments in startups and emerging companies. If the Wisconsin Legislature embraces an early stage capital plan at least as large as what has been proposed by Gov. Scott Walker, it would not be plowing new ground.
March 10, 2013
While there are some who would turn Mayer's decision to abolish Yahoo's work-at-home policy into a national referendum on workplace flexibility, it's not. Mayer was simply doing what was right for Yahoo at the time. Her decision offers a lesson for executives everywhere about striking a balance between allowing employees to keep flexible hours to balance their own lives and blanket policies that practically invite productivity and morale problems.
March 8, 2013
The war against cancer has many fronts. One of the emerging battlegrounds is location: Bringing cancer-fighting technologies to people regardless of where they live. That’s the thinking behind the creation of the Wisconsin Oncology Network of Imaging Excellence, a project that promises to bring the latest work of the UW-Madison Carbone Cancer Center to a network of treatment centers across Wisconsin.
March 1, 2013
Embedded in the national debate over automatic cuts in the federal budget – the so-called “sequester” – is a question that could hit Wisconsin harder than many states: What is Washington’s role in fostering innovation? The answer is vital to the state’s academic research institutions, many of its entrepreneurs and the larger goal of making Wisconsin more competitive in the global economy.
February 23, 2013
Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to create a $25 million "capital investment program . . . for co-investments in business startups and investment capital projects" was deliberately vague. As he told reporters and others last week in unveiling the state's $68 billion budget plan for the next two years, it's because he wants the Legislature to have a hand in shaping the details.
February 21, 2013
The Feb. 18 release of a private report that tracked 141 corporate data thefts to China, perhaps even to units of the People’s Liberation Army itself, has heightened government and private concerns about cyber-attacks. Increasingly at risk are some of America’s lifelines – including its energy pipelines, its water supply, its health-care networks and its financial institutions. Strategies for guarding against cyber threats will be explored Feb. 26 during a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon meeting in Madison, where two experts on the front lines of defense will discuss how state expertise is being tapped.
February 18, 2013
One proposal that would go a long ways toward rounding out the budget strategy is a state-leveraged investment capital fund. If Walker adds this idea to the list to be announced Wednesday, it would attract private dollars to Wisconsin while helping to jumpstart a whole generation of emerging companies.
February 9, 2013
A recent report from the Brookings Institution, which dwelt on patenting and innovation in metro America since 1980, should be instructive for Wisconsin as its policy-makers ponder what it takes to create companies, jobs and wealth.
February 8, 2013
Over the past 40 years, Waisman scientists have discovered some of the causes of autism, disclosed the genetic roots of rare neurodegenerative diseases, manufactured cell- and gene-based pharmaceuticals to cure diseases, found ways to use medical imaging to “see” the brains of people with autism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders, discovered how infants learn language and even shown how meditation can change the brain.
February 3, 2013
Immigration is good for the U.S. economy and Wisconsin shouldn't miss the chance to attract talent it needs to remain competitive.
January 28, 2013
Gov. Scott Walker told the Wisconsin Technology Council board of directors last week that the key to passing an investment capital program is persuading lawmakers that such an investment will help Wisconsin as a whole, not just the start-up hubs in Milwaukee and Madison, and doing so in a way that spreads the risk and builds in safeguards.
January 27, 2013
It appears the mere idea that Wisconsin might create a state-leveraged seed, angel and venture fund is attracting some much-needed attention. That was the underlying message this week when the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., responding to an open records request, disclosed that 12 groups have expressed interest in managing a state investment capital program if such a fund is created soon.
January 18, 2013
While no one can deny that raw job creation is one vital sign for Wisconsin’s health, the debate shouldn’t overlook other measures that help quantify and qualify how the state is doing. Here are a few examples of other economic indicators that can assist policymakers – and citizens – in taking the state’s economic pulse.
January 13, 2013
When David Westlake entered the Governor’s Business Plan Contest a year ago, Print Command had one employee – him. Today, it has 16, and the Delafield resident credits part of the cybersecurity company’s growth to his successful journey through the contest. Entering its 10th contest year, the Governor’s Business Plan Contest has provided that kind of head start for hundreds of companies.
January 9, 2013
The latest federal government data shows Wisconsin’s job growth is still lagging the U.S. average. Wisconsin needs more people who are willing and able to create their own jobs. The 2013 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest offers a proven pathway for entrepreneurs to get started.
January 4, 2013
The “fiscal cliff” deal reached over the New Year’s holiday in Washington wasn’t the political grand bargain envisioned just after the November elections. In fact, it was more of a stopgap measure that kept federal income tax hikes from falling on middle-class taxpayers and which called a two-month time out on automatic spending cuts.
January 1, 2013
Immigration is good for the U.S. economy and Wisconsin shouldn’t miss the chance to attract talent it needs to remain competitive.
December 28, 2012
With 2013 perched like a nestling on the side of the nation’s fiscal cliff, it’s hard to know what factors could give the new year its wings – or force it to tumble helplessly into the abyss.
December 27, 2012
So long, 2012, a year in which the economy took two steps forward for every one step back, and welcome to 2013, a nestling born on the edge of a cliff. Here are some trends worth following.
December 20, 2012
A source close to the toy industry has once again leaked a copy of Santa’s perks list for Wisconsin politicians and newsmakers. Here’s what the good boys and girls in Madison and Washington will reportedly find in their stockings this Christmas. But they better not pout and they better not cry if an alert district attorney asks why gifts were delivered down chimneys after midnight.
December 15, 2012
At the Dec. 13 meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting in Wauwatosa, the deputy secretary of Wisconsin’s economic development agency said the odds are “a little better than 50-50” that a $200-million, six-year plan to spur investment capital will pass the state Legislature next year.
December 14, 2012
The Dec. 11 “Talk with Walker” stop at Virent Energy, a Madison-based company that has grown from a handful of employees to more than 120 workers, provided a natural backdrop for a sneak peak at how Walker is approaching the state’s 2013-2015 budget bill, especially as it relates to economic development.
December 6, 2012
In some important off-the-field comparisons, Big Ten Conference schools run up the score on their counterparts in the Southeastern Conference.
December 3, 2012
The United States is well on its way to becoming virtually energy independent in less than two decades, in no small part because “fracking” and other technologies are unlocking new supplies of oil and natural gas within our borders. That’s great news for an economy that seems permanently stuck in neutral. However, it’s unnerving for those who believe prolonged reliance on fossil fuels will curb conservation, reduce innovation and accelerate potentially disastrous climate change.
November 30, 2012
Somewhere along the evolutionary path from startups to mature businesses, many companies stop innovating. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, especially in big companies that are learning how to strike a balance. A ready example of a major company striving to remain innovative was on display in Madison last week when Jay Singer, a New York-based executive for MasterCard Worldwide, spoke to the Wisconsin Innovation Network.
November 27, 2012
If you mention “toll roads” to the typical Wisconsin motorist, chances are good the reply will include an unflattering reference to Illinois and its 286 miles of pay-as-you-go interstate highways. Read the full column here.
November 19, 2012
With help from people around the world, the National Academy of Sciences a few years back outlined 14 “grand challenges” for engineering in the 21st century… any one of which, if met, could improve how we live. Wisconsin scientists, researchers and companies are positioned to help with those challenges, especially if existing public and private resources are efficiently aligned.
November 15, 2012
Welcome to Wisconsin’s evolving startup economy, where traditional powerhouses such as medical imaging and biotechnology are making room for companies in other sectors.
November 9, 2012
While they may profess otherwise to friends, co-workers and pollsters, most Americans secretly like (and repeatedly vote for) gridlock.
November 5, 2012
Last week’s launch of the Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory illustrates how Wisconsin researchers and companies are linked to big data, either as providers of systems that implement its use or as end users.
November 3, 2012
Wisconsin's start-up economy is beginning to look like its parents . . . all of them. For years, most babies in the state's entrepreneurial crib were named "Bio-this" or "Gen-that," a reflection of the fact that emerging biotechnology companies were the darlings of angel and venture capitalists. Young life science companies are still being born in Wisconsin, but the nursery is making room for start-ups that resemble other fathers and mothers in the state's economic family. The company lineup at the upcoming Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium reflects that trend.
October 26, 2012
It’s hard to find a Mitt Romney or Barack Obama mask for Halloween that’s not made in China. I discovered that the other day while costume shopping. It was an ironic reminder of the gap between the reality of trade and the election-year rhetoric surrounding it.
October 22, 2012
The second presidential debate featured more half-truths, interruptions and bickering than an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” but one frank moment may define the debate over jobs in the campaign’s closing weeks.
October 17, 2012
Year after year, the rap on Wisconsin’s startup sector has been that too few companies are created here. Fair enough. However, it’s equally important to ask: What’s the survival rate for young companies born in Wisconsin? The answer offers an encouraging glimpse at Wisconsin’s resourceful entrepreneurial culture.
October 7, 2012
What is the federal government’s role in fostering innovation? While the first debate offered a glimpse of how Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney might approach that question, details matter. That’s especially true when the unavoidable realities of federal budget deficits could dramatically curtail federal investment in research and development.
October 4, 2012
It’s safe to say Wisconsin has a mixed record when it comes to slogans and brands.
Remember “Live like you mean it”? That slogan only lived only about seven months in 2009 after it was introduced by the state’s tourism department. Critics said it sounded like something a motivational speaker might chant – and exactly like a slogan once used by a major distillery.
September 28, 2012
A major reason why the Upper Midwest is emerging as an investment hotspot is because homegrown investors, working with young companies, have laid the groundwork. It’s a trend that began in Wisconsin about 10 years ago with the formation of the first angel networks.
September 24, 2012
Meeting the need for skilled workers – from people with the right training for today’s high-tech manufacturing to people with advanced college degrees – has been addressed by three recent reports in Wisconsin. That kind of consensus around the size of the problem should mean solutions are achievable, even in a divided political era.
September 24, 2012
Because the Internet is a uniquely American innovation, it reflects American values such as freedom of expression. For those values to endure, the Internet’s stewards must continue to exercise solid judgment in a world with conflicting standards and laws.
September 7, 2012
One of my favorite pop quizzes for people outside Wisconsin, especially those who understand the tech-based economy, is to ask them to name the nation’s top five academic research universities. The answers invariably include the likes of Stanford, Yale and Harvard, but rarely does anyone outside the Midwest guess that UW-Madison is perennially on the list.
August 31, 2012
Some of the 130 or so workers at Madison’s Hologic Inc. facility were among the first employees of Third Wave Technologies, which was born in the mid-1990s in the labs of UW-Madison and grew so quickly that its stock was listed on the NASDAQ exchange by 2001.
August 22, 2012
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin has decided to remain in the Republican primary race for U.S. Senate in Missouri. In the meantime, can someone at least kick him off the House Science Committee?
August 16, 2012
Toni Sikes is hardly your wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneur. Her startup credentials include several online businesses tied to the arts, she’s a co-founder of Calumet Venture Fund and she’s raised tens of millions in private equity capital for her endeavors over time.
August 11, 2012
Paul Ryan’s selection as the running mate for Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president, doesn’t especially surprise those who have known the Janesville native since his years as a young policy wonk in Washington. In fact, they agree, the Paul Ryan they knew 15 or 20 years ago is the same Paul Ryan they know today.
August 8, 2012
The pinpoint landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, where it will meander across 12 miles of the red planet’s surface over the next two years, has revived interest in the exploration of our solar system – and beyond.
August 2, 2012
The lights went out last Tuesday in India. From its eastern border with Myanmar to its western frontier with Pakistan, the electrical system failure spread across 2,000 miles and left 670 million people – nearly 10 percent of the world’s population – without power.
July 24, 2012
Ankit Agarwal is a two-time finalist in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest and a biochemical engineer whose work promises to help doctors treat patients with slow-to-heal skin wounds. He’s even started a Madison-based company, Imbed Biosciences, to commercialize his discoveries.
July 19, 2012
Jeff Helgesen, one of Rock County’s largest developers, doesn’t parse words when he’s asked if the Janesville area is better off today than it was when General Motors Corp. was the 800-pound gorilla in town.
July 6, 2012
The University of Wisconsin System was a bit late to the digital education party, but at least it’s not a no-show.
June 29, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court’s July 28 decision to uphold the core of the Affordable Care Act, the full name for President Obama’s health care plan, didn’t end the political debate over government’s role in health care. In fact, the ruling has already become a defining issue in the fall elections.
June 20, 2012
The need to essentially re-invent the Internet is behind a trend called “software defined networking,” or Open Flow, that has commanded the attention of the industry’s biggest names, academic researchers, major telecommunication providers and the White House itself.
June 18, 2012
Walker’s victory in the June 5 recall election secured his seat in the Capitol’s East Wing through 2014 but also freed him to serve as Wisconsin’s salesman-in-chief, a role that will help the state attract new business and investment while retaining and expanding what it already has.
June 18, 2012
Society is ever-so-slowly winning its war against cancer. That’s due in part to better health habits, such as not smoking, but it’s also because diagnostic and therapeutic technologies are advancing at an accelerated pace.
June 14, 2012
As Wisconsin’s delegation of biotech executives, researchers and others arrive in Boston for this year’s BIO International Convention, they will enter an industry setting that has changed for the better in some ways, for the worse in others – or simply just changed.
June 4, 2012
Please read Tom Still's column in the June 3 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the absence of higher education in the recall election debate. Click here
for the full column.
June 1, 2012
Richard A. Clarke is no stranger to national security. He was a senior White House adviser to three presidents and served nearly 20 years in the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, often concentrating on stopping foreign “hackers” from exploiting weaknesses in the nation’s computer networks.
May 24, 2012
You know it’s a real, honest-to-goodness Wisconsin business plan contest when two finalists have come up with better ways to catch fish.
May 2, 2012
Larry Landweber’s story speaks to Wisconsin’s legacy of expertise in computer sciences and networking – as well as the need to keep innovating at a time when global competition might erase the unique American advantage that came with being the cradle of the Internet.