Wisconsin has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. Think of the marquee companies, headquartered in Wisconsin, that are our economic calling cards – Oshkosh Corp., S.C. Johnson, Johnson Controls, Manitowoc Company, Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton, Johnsonville, Kohler, Kohl’s and Quad Graphics. These companies all have one thing in common: They were named after the Wisconsin municipality of their founding or the last name of their founders.

Today, a new generation of entrepreneurs and their partners are helping to build Wisconsin’s 21st century “knowledge economy” on a solid foundation that has long included expertise in manufacturing, agriculture, medicine and more. Read a timeline of Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial and technology milestones.

The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit is designed to give innovators a guide to resources available in Wisconsin and beyond. Some of those resources have been available for years, if not decades; some are relatively recent additions to the toolbox and reflect Wisconsin’s commitment to building on its historically entrepreneurial culture and economy.

The state’s lead economic development organization, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, nurtures business growth and job creation by providing resources, technical support and financial assistance to companies, partners and the communities it serves. It is the successor agency to the former Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Contact: 608-210-6700.

For entrepreneurs, WEDC’s main portal is the Division of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which seeks to elevate the state economy by increasing the amount of R&D and investment capital and by providing an effective support network.

A suite of Technology Development and Commercialization Funding Programs, available through WEDC, help accelerate promising new innovation into the marketplace. This includes financing for research and development activities, as well as Technology Development Loans that provide low-interest loans to supplement investor capital. In addition, the Angel and Early Stage Seed Investment Tax Credit Program addresses the vitality of Wisconsin’s private equity market.

Accredited angel investors and/or certified venture funds can claim a 25 percent Wisconsin income tax credit on eligible investments made in companies designated as Qualified New Business Ventures. WEDC certifies both business ventures and investors. To be certified as a QNBV, a new venture at the time of application must be considered a Wisconsin-based early stage company, i.e., having fewer than 100 employees, being in business for not more than 10 years, and receiving no more than $10 million in private equity investment.

Other focus areas within WEDC include Business and Industry Development, which works with targeted business sectors; International Business Development, which spurs exports and foreign direct investment; and Economic and Community Development, which invests in high-quality job creation and world-class community networks.

WEDC’s International Business Development Team provides companies with export technical assistance and can help assess the demand for Wisconsin-made products outside of the United States and introduce Wisconsin businesses to potential customers, distributors, or partners in other parts of the world. There are two Global Business Development grants programs to support the growth and expansion of Wisconsin’s exports. These matching grant programs assist Wisconsin businesses with export training, development and promotion activities.

The Wisconsin Technology Council is the independent, non-profit science and technology adviser to the governor and the Legislature, and a partner with WEDC on a number of programs aimed at entrepreneurs and investors. The Tech Council manages the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium and Resource Rendezvous, all of which help entrepreneurs connect and acquire skills. Contact: 608-442-7557.

The Tech Council is home to the Wisconsin Tech Council Investor Networks, which stimulates private-equity deal flow. Through a secure website, WAN provides a deal-flow pipeline linking entrepreneurs seeking growth capital with members of active Wisconsin angel networks and venture capital firms. WAN has grown from five networks in late 2004 to more than two-dozen today. It helps train angel investors, coach entrepreneurs on how to “pitch” their ideas, provides support services for angel groups and charts deal-flow activity across Wisconsin through publications such as The Wisconsin Portfolio.

Also part of the Tech Council, the Wisconsin Innovation Network hosts regular educational and networking events for entrepreneurs in Madison, Milwaukee, Appleton, central Wisconsin, western Wisconsin and the Lake Superior region. Learn more and find events near you. 

WEDC is also a partner with the Center for Technology Commercialization, which provides targeted assistance to startup ventures across Wisconsin. CTC professionals are a first point of contact to help entrepreneurs navigate the necessary stages of business inception, launch, and growth. CTC provides a range of assistance, from short courses, to just-in-time training, to one-on-one counseling services. CTC currently provides assistance with federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, and handles applications for the Early Planning Grant and Entrepreneur Training Grant programs.