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Tom Still's - Inside Wisconsin

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.


Inside Wis: With company life spans growing shorter, young companies help fill gap

April 11, 2014

The increasingly dynamic nature of the economy means that while workers themselves may be living longer, companies are not.

Inside Wis: Getting behind the numbers on why new company creation is important

April 4, 2014

Small businesses account for 65 percent of net, new private-sector jobs, according to federal figures, and businesses between one and 10 years old create 40 percent of all jobs. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., which follows entrepreneurship nationally, has also attributed most net new jobs to young companies. It’s why the debate over company creation in Wisconsin will command attention as the election year gathers steam.

Inside Wis: Angels in the cornfields: Investing not just a big-city game

March 28, 2014

Inside the Nohr Art Gallery on the UW-Platteville campus, 15 or so people gathered last week to talk about a lot more than the paintings and photographs on the walls. The topic was angel investing, a subject usually discussed on the nation’s coasts and larger cities, but increasingly part of the conversation in states such as Wisconsin.

Still in JSOnline: Graying of Wisconsin shows challenge in filling tomorrow's jobs

March 24, 2014

The demographic challenge for Wisconsin is best summarized by a few statistics that help to explain why it's also a workforce challenge.

Inside Wis: Wisconsin, Midwest slowly finding way on to investors’ radar screens

March 21, 2014

Inside the sparkling new offices of Nordic Consulting, a firm that has grown from a handful of health information technology experts to 400 employees and more than 90 customers, three venture capitalists from Boston sat down recently to talk about what they’re seeing in Wisconsin.

Inside Wis: Principle of ‘creative destruction’ means churn and learn for economy

March 13, 2014

As American TV & Appliance prepares to shut its doors, lessons about competing on quality, service, product and price can be found in recent company expansions in Wisconsin.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Sometimes even state government gets in way of business

March 10, 2014

Several issues making the rounds in or around the state Capitol illustrate how the federal-state balancing act can affect the business community, for better or worse.

Inside Wis: Amid debate over Common Core, STEM consensus offers lesson

March 7, 2014

Gov. Scott Walker and others may have their problems with Wisconsin’s Common Core standards, which have been in the works since 2009, but when it comes to STEM education, his office proclaimed next week as “STEM Week” in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently rolled out a modest grants program for schools that want to enhance STEM programs, and many statewide groups are working to make science, technology, engineering and math a bigger part of the curriculum.

Inside Wis: Tech-based innovation across America; Wisconsin is far from alone

February 28, 2014

As the Wisconsin Legislature rolls toward a spring wrap-up of its work, economic development items on its agenda range from protecting intellectual property from “patent trolls” to setting the stage for more classified research to rethinking the state’s sore-thumb tax on capital raised by many young companies.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Tech Summit aims to align state's business orbits

February 24, 2014

Produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and partners that include some well-known Milwaukee-area companies, the Tech Summit will provide an organized way for young companies and corporate giants to meet and explore likely business relationships around technology needs and innovation.

Inside Wis: In small ways, Wisconsin still makes it hard on emerging companies

February 19, 2014

With angel and venture capital investment dollars scarce for many young companies, the question arises: Why is Wisconsin virtually alone in taxing capital raised by those companies?

Inside Wis: Behind the Obamacare numbers; the (re)rise of the creative class

February 14, 2014

Just when you thought you had the politics of the pro- and anti-Obamacare debate figured out, along come some pesky numbers to upset your thinking.

Bill helps UW researchers meet national, economy needs with cybersecurity work

February 10, 2014

Enhancing cybersecurity to protect against threats from abroad, as well as close to home, is a national priority that touches just about everyone in our digital age. The risks can range from breaches of department store credit card data to attacks on America’s lifelines – including its energy grid, its water supply, its health-care institutions and its financial institutions. Read Milwaukee Journal Sentinel version of Tom Still's column here.

Inside Wis: Patent lawsuits, jet fuel from plants, angel investing and more

February 7, 2014

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation isn’t the only organization accusing Apple Inc. of infringing on a high-tech patent.

Inside Wis: Connecting emerging companies, major firms is goal of Tech Summit

February 3, 2014

Produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and partners that include the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Wisconsin Tech Summit will provide an organized way for young companies and corporate giants to meet and explore likely business relationships around technology needs and innovation.

Still in Journal Sentinel: UW, UWM team up on energy, power and control

January 27, 2014

An emerging proposal involving UW-Madison, UWM and a variety of industry partners is the latest example of how the state's largest cities are finding ways to work together in a competitive world that doesn't care about geographic borders — global or municipal.

Inside Wis: Science, information can help farming survive tough regulatory climate

January 24, 2014

In a society where fewer and fewer people have any ties to farming, even a generation or two removed, how will agriculture meet its many challenges? Managing information better and using science and technology to solve problems will be part of the answer.

Inside Wis: Striking an energy generation balance

January 17, 2014

One speaker after another at the Renew Wisconsin Policy Summit cited examples of how other states, often Midwest neighbors but also politically “red” states around the country, are forging ahead with strategies that involve solar, wind, biomass and other renewable generation sources.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin poised for ‘Year of the Investor’

January 12, 2014

Will 2014 be the “Year of the Early Stage Investor?” While mid-January is a bit early to make predictions for the next 50 weeks, there are some encouraging signs that angel, venture and other private equity investors are warming to Wisconsin’s startup and emerging companies.

Inside Wis: Book captures comical interface between health care codes and art

January 10, 2014

The build-up to I.C.D.-10, a new set of computerized medical codes, is why a group of Madison-based health IT experts and artists combined to produce “Struck by Orca,” an illustrated guide to some of the more obscure and often hilarious situations that have found their way into the federal code.

Inside Wis: It all starts with an idea: Business plan contest offers ‘treps a way to build

December 31, 2013

It all starts with an idea and a plan to take it from cocktail napkin notes to reality. That’s what the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest has done for hundreds of entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004.

Still in Journal Sentinel: State must find right mix of job creation, taxation

December 28, 2013

Although largely dismissed by the two major-party candidates for governor at the time, Republican Scott McCallum and Democrat Jim Doyle, the tax-reform plan remains an example of bold thinking about taxes, spending and economic growth. It was Camelot for policy wonks, even if the politics were wrong for the times.

Inside Wis: Why Boeing should select Wisconsin – and why it’s OK even if it doesn’t

December 20, 2013

Can you name more than one or two major companies that have ever picked up and moved to Wisconsin, especially from farther away than Illinois or Minnesota? It rarely happens.

Inside Wis: Holiday perks includes naughty and nice in Wisconsin politics

December 18, 2013

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.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Madison Bioenergy Research Center tackles energy initiatives

December 15, 2013

The nation's three Bioenergy Research Centers — including one in Madison — are cranking out transformative research that is beginning to find its way into companies and the broader economy, said Patricia Dehmer, chief science officer for DOE.

Inside Wis: For small businesses and ‘treps, some year-end advice on health care

December 12, 2013

As 2013 rolls to a close, many wonder: What’s our next step if we want health care coverage in the year ahead? The answer depends a great deal on the size and current coverage plan of your company – and whether you’re a one-person shop.

Inside Wis: Ex-governor Thompson finds late second career in health care deals

December 6, 2013

Thompson is the chairman and chief executive officer of Thompson Holdings, a business umbrella under which one of the most familiar names and faces in Wisconsin politics is investing and advising about 30 companies, mostly in the health care space. 

Still in Journal Sentinel: Higher education’s challenges aren’t confined to Wisconsin

December 1, 2013

The same problems and trends that are challenging the University of Wisconsin System these days are confronting other public universities across the country. That was evident at the annual conference of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, held recently in Washington, D.C.

Inside Wis: A Thanksgiving appeal to the great CIO in the sky

November 26, 2013

As we gather this Thanksgiving to share time with family, friends and food, let us count the blessings of our digital age… using zeros and ones only, of course.

Inside Wis: Fifty years after his death, JFK’s science and technology legacy endures

November 22, 2013

The wave of remembrances tied to the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination have necessarily stressed his role in pushing the frontiers of space exploration, but his contributions to innovation in other realms of science and technology reach well beyond. 

Still in Journal Sentinel: Ten trends that define tech sector growth in Wisconsin

November 17, 2013

While Wisconsin continues to lag in the creation of net new companies, directions in sectors that are sources of young, high-growth companies promise to help over time. Here are 10 trends shaping the future of Wisconsin’s tech-based economy.

Inside Wis: Philippines typhoon shows need for better storm prediction science

November 12, 2013

Two days after Typhoon Haiyan left a trail of death and destruction in the Philippines, some of the nation’s leading climate scientists gathered at a higher education conference to talk about how to better predict the next mega-storm. Their conclusion: Whether or not people and policymakers buy into the notion of man-made climate change, the science of forecasting the strength, target and frequency of such storms must qualitatively improve. 

Inside Wis: Investor George Mosher is example of ups and downs of angel investing

November 8, 2013

Angel and venture capital investing in Wisconsin has many faces. They range from sophisticated fund managers, inside the state and out, who handle multi-million-dollar deals to the casual investor who may join a hometown angel network and take part in one five-digit deal a year. One of the most familiar and humble faces belongs to George Mosher.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Program aims to better link UW System, state economy

November 2, 2013

It's a common question, often voiced inside the Capitol and within Wisconsin's business community: How can the University of Wisconsin System better align itself with the state's economic future?

Inside Wis: Cities, states and regions must ultimately map own routes to success

November 1, 2013

It’s rarely a bad idea to compare-and-contrast when it comes to business development, whether it’s city to city, state to state or region to region. It can be a really bad idea, however, to get hung up on it. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case these days in Wisconsin, where a slow recovery from the Great Recession has sent business, government and economic development leaders scrambling for answers wherever the grass looks greener. 

Inside Wis: Crowdfunding trend gets green light in Wisconsin, there are still caution flags

October 25, 2013

The concept of equity crowdfunding was embraced by the JOBS Act, within certain investment limits, but it ran head-long into the SEC’s historic concern about society inventing new ways to swindle grandmothers and other unsuspecting investors. So, while most of the nation waited for the SEC rules, several states moved ahead with crowdfunding on their own – including Wisconsin, where the Legislature has passed legislation to rewrite state securities law.

Inside Wis: Why making connections abroad matters for emerging companies

October 18, 2013

Louis Ho, the director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s seven offices in North and South America, freely admits he didn’t know that much about Wisconsin until a recent visit to Minnesota’s Twin Cities persuaded him to look across the border.

Inside Wis: How the federal shutdown affects Wisconsin depends on perspective

October 11, 2013

Uncertainty in the markets is one of the most obvious indicators of the federal shutdown, but it’s not confined to companies that are publically traded. The story is similar for other emerging companies in the life sciences, including medical devices, and extends to firms in other sectors that may be subject federal review or a grant approval process.

Inside Wis: Tools for fighting wildfires include incentives to manage neglected forests

October 7, 2013

The United States is home to about 297,000 or so square miles (190 million acres) of federal forest and rangeland. This incredible resource has always been – and forever will be – susceptible to fire, natural as well as manmade. But the fire patterns of the last decade or more represent a worrying change: There have been more fires that are more devastating, harder to fight, and more costly to people and the environment.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Federal JOBS Act falling short of aim to aid startups

October 7, 2013

The Jumpstarting Our Business Startups Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama about 18 months ago. The goal was to make things easier for entrepreneurs who are raising money for privately held business start-ups, as well as broaden the pool of investors for such start-ups. The reality has fallen far short of that goal.

Inside Wis: Creating more jobs in Wisconsin is more than a political flap; it’s hard work

September 27, 2013

Assuming national issues such as interest rates, the advent of health-care reform and uncertainty in Washington and abroad affect all states more or less evenly, what are the factors holding Wisconsin back? Here are some possibilities.

Still in Journal Sentinel: “Big data” isn’t a big snore if you care about security

September 22, 2013

Making sense of how to collect, store, use and protect your own byte of “big data” was a theme of the Sept. 18 Resource Rendezvous at UW-Milwaukee, where about 80 people gathered to hear from cybersecurity experts and others from the worlds of research, business and defense. 

Inside Wis: Water technology becoming a part of Wisconsin’s global innovation brand

September 20, 2013

When first lady Michelle Obama dropped by the southern Wisconsin city of Watertown to urge Americans to drink more water, the original healthy alternative to sugary drinks, it seemed like a good gimmick. She “dropped” into Watertown… get it? 

The first lady’s visit was welcome, of course, but there’s a lot more happening under the surface of Wisconsin’s water technology economy than even the White House might know. 

Inside Wis: There’s much more to science institute than stem-cell research

September 13, 2013

The history of friction between science and theology resurfaced in Wisconsin recently with the announcement that the 7,400 children who attend schools in the Madison Catholic Diocese will no longer be taking field trips to the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery. That’s because the facility on the UW-Madison campus conducts research using human embryonic stem cells.

Still in Journal Sentinel: UW regents, Legislature must resolve quarrels

September 9, 2013

It was dubbed "Finding Common Ground," a Sept. 5 summit to bring together state legislators, University of Wisconsin regents and other university leaders to talk about ways to mend fences after a series of trust-eroding episodes.

Inside Wis: Health-care reform is ‘jump ball,’ but state’s Medicaid computers ready

September 4, 2013

The advent of the Affordable Care Act means many states are scrambling to set up insurance exchanges, which are online marketplaces to shop for private insurance, while other states will rely on a federal exchange. This shuffle is taking place just as rules covering Medicaid eligibility are changing for millions of families, including about 92,000 in Wisconsin.


Meanwhile, most private health providers are falling into one of two categories – predator or prey – and the entire U.S. system is figuring out how to absorb tens of millions of uninsured people just as legions of doctors are retiring.

Inside Wisconsin: States and metros from which Wisconsin can learn

September 1, 2013
If there’s a flaw in Wisconsin’s cultural DNA that should be targeted for knock-out genetic treatments in one of our leading laboratories, it would be our reluctance to occasionally learn from others.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Tread carefully on equity crowdfunding

August 25, 2013

While most of the nation waits for the SEC rules for the JOBS Act, two states have moved ahead with crowdfunding on their own. Georgia and Kansas have taken the plunge; North Carolina and Washington state are considering similar state-based platforms. Joining the march, three Wisconsin legislators said this month they will introduce a bill to rewrite Wisconsin’s securities law to allow equity crowdfunding.

Inside Wis: Crossing the chasm: How UW-Madison can be more open for business

August 24, 2013

Crossing the chasm that often separates academia from the business world was the topic of an Aug. 22 panel discussion featuring DeLuca, Mackie and Davidson at the second annual “Corporate Open House” held on campus. The conversation highlighted the need for the university to make its value better known to industry – and for industry to not be shy about seeking academic partners.

Inside Wis: Immigration reform debate reaches into cities, farms of central Wisconsin

August 15, 2013

Located in largely rural Marathon County, Wausau is a city of about 40,000 that absorbed several thousand Hmong immigrants beginning in the 1970s. Wausau was nonetheless the site of an Aug. 14 forum that demonstrated how the issue of immigration reform has become a district-by-district struggle for votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, where a Senate-passed reform bill faces an uncertain future.

Still in Journal Sentinel: SEC's angel rules could hurt, not help, start-up firms

August 10, 2013

Welcome to the SEC's tortured rule-making process for the federal "Jumpstart Our Business Startups" act. Dubbed the JOBS Act, the legislation was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama more than a year ago.

Inside Wis: Baldwin’s visit illustrates value of R&D to human health, economy

August 9, 2013

Tammy Baldwin readily admits she has a soft spot for academic researchers and the federal dollars that often help to support them. Her grandfather was a UW-Madison biochemist who worked at the Institute for Enzyme Research for decades. So it’s no surprise that Wisconsin’s first-term U.S. senator would spend time thinking about how her work on Senate committees dealing with health, education, energy and homeland security might intersect with academic researchers – and the ideas they often bring to the marketplace. 

Inside Wis: Welcome to Milwaukee, Governors: It’s more than just beer, brats and Braun

July 31, 2013

What are Milwaukee and Wisconsin doing, not only to avoid the perils that befell the Motor City, but to pave the way for a brighter economic future? As the National Governors Association wraps up its stay in Milwaukee, here are examples of policy and governance success stories to take home.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Fracking boom is opportunity for state companies

July 27, 2013

While far from uncontroversial, the mining of "frac sand" in Wisconsin is one example of how the state is capitalizing on the international boom in oil and natural gas exploration — a bonanza that could make the United States a net exporter of oil and gas in time.

Inside Wis: How is the state economy doing? It depends on who asks and answers

July 26, 2013

Wisconsin can show up well in some state-by-state rankings of economic activity and competitiveness – and not so favorably in others. Here are some recent examples.

Inside Wis: As global marketplace grows, so do opportunities, risks for companies

July 19, 2013

Understanding how to do business overseas was the topic of a July 18 Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting in Milwaukee, where a veteran of more than 25 years of global business development walked through the basics of getting through international doors – and resources that can help while you’re knocking.

Inside Wis: North Woods innovation on display in companies old, new, large, small

July 12, 2013

Welcome to the new North Woods, where efforts to redefine the economy involve companies large and small, as well as a broader community that understands the need to secure the region’s long-term prosperity. 

Inside Wis: Innovation takes place in all business sectors

July 5, 2013

Recent studies and news reports show innovation is helping to reshape some of Wisconsin’s largest business sectors. That’s vital to the state’s long-term recovery, not only from the Great Recession that began in 2008, but a much longer slide in manufacturing employment that began more than 13 years ago.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin economy needs more to compete globally

June 29, 2013

More must be done for Wisconsin to compete in a global economy that increasingly values innovation and knowledge.

Inside Wis: How immigration reform will help keep talent in Wisconsin

June 27, 2013

In a global economy, Wisconsin looks much less international than even its neighbors. Compared to Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin has a smaller share of foreign-born population and total labor force, as well as fewer foreign-born business owners. The gap is most glaring when it comes to keeping foreign-born workers with specific skills needed in a knowledge-based economy.

Inside Wis: State’s early stage capital program will begin with process and patience

June 21, 2013

The Legislature has voted overwhelming to support a $25-million state investment in a larger “fund-of-funds” – and Gov. Scott Walker is likely to sign it into law – but the process of establishing the fund now enters a due diligence phase.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Healthy sprinkling of greed can reap economic growth

June 17, 2013

Four Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors with Wisconsin ties returned to the state this month for the annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Conference. Their message: Don't try to be Silicon Valley, but don't ignore what made it successful, either.

Inside Wis: Wisconsin is well-positioned for explosion in health information technology

June 14, 2013

Like it or not, health-care reform is here to stay. A major tool being applied to health care’s challenges is wider adoption of health information technologies, which collectively help patients, providers, insurers and medical practitioners as they come to grips with change.

Inside Wis: Bipartisan vote on early stage capital bill may set tone for Legislature

June 7, 2013

The 91-2 Assembly vote in support of a bill to create a state-leveraged venture capital program may represent the beginning of a less rancorous era (or, at least, a brief respite). Democrats and Republicans will continue to disagree on many issues – school vouchers and tax cuts being current examples – but it may now be OK to occasionally agree without penalty.

Inside Wis: Learning from others can help all types of entrepreneurs down the path

May 31, 2013

The challenges and opportunities facing entrepreneurs, who are increasingly a part of Wisconsin’s business landscape, are the focus of next week’s Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Middleton. They are also at the heart of a continuing series, “The Entrepreneurs’ Edge,” which began in Green Bay, Milwaukee and DeForest and which continues June 17 in Racine.

Inside Wis: For proof of how venture capital funds can work, gaze across Lake Michigan

May 24, 2013

In many ways, Michigan looks a lot like Wisconsin. It shares hundreds of miles of the same Great Lakes shoreline, and usually votes “blue” in presidential elections and “red” when it comes to choosing governors and members of its state Legislature. It also boasts major research universities that rank among the nation’s best. Unlike Wisconsin, however, Michigan began investing in its emerging economy years ago – even as the state’s automobile manufacturing base was teetering on the edge of collapse.

Inside Wis: Connecting the dots between health and well-being

May 20, 2013

Held under the title of “Change Your Mind, Change the World,” the event brought together experts in neuroscience, health care, psychology, economics and the environment to talk about global health and emotional well-being. Speakers made a compelling case that physical health is often linked to emotional or mental health, yet health-care systems in most countries don’t often see the connection.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Society has a love-hate relationship with technology

May 19, 2013

Google Glass, a wearable computer that looks like a pair of eyeglasses, has sparked the latest chapter in a debate that is older than you might imagine: How does technology test the boundaries between privacy and the First Amendment?

Inside Wis: Wisconsin’s long-term growth strategy at play in WEDC flap

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.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin entrepreneurs back bill for early investment

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. 

Inside Wis: Oil-and-gas boom doesn’t end need for new energy solutions

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.

Still in Journal Sentinel: Public, private cooperation needed to rebuild middle class

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.

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