By Tom Still

FRIENDSHIP, Wis. — What do entrepreneurs gathered in a major city such as Milwaukee have in common with those in a small community such as Adams-Friendship in central Wisconsin?

More than one might imagine.

I had a chance to compare and contrast recently at two very different events: The first involved short “pitches” by entrepreneurs developing technologies to analyze, clean, treat and otherwise manage fresh water on a massive scale; the second centered around a workshop on the basics of setting up and growing a small business of any description.

Recurring themes were the need for a solid business plan, making a compelling pitch to customers or investors, building the right company “team” and, of course, raising enough money to get the enterprise off the ground… and raising more to help it succeed.

Ten water-tech ‘treps involved in The Water Council’s latest BREW cohort (that’s an acronym for Business Research Entrepreneurship in Water) went on stage June 22 in Milwaukee for short presentations on their respective innovations. Six were from the United States; four hailed from France, Norway, Slovakia and Spain.

Advanced industrial wastewater treatment, digital solutions for processing laboratory samples, PFAS destruction, microbiological assessment, environmental DNA detection and robotic pipeline inspection and drawing water out of the air for emergency and “off-the-grid” use were among innovations pitched.

A panel of reviewers and others asked questions, mostly technical in nature but also around basic questions such as: Why is your product better than what’s already on the market, who are your potential first customers and what is your plan for addressing the broader market?

A few angel and venture capital investors were on hand to size up the pitches, which were a coming-out party of sorts for most of the young companies involved. The technology imbedded in most of the BREW companies means those kinds of investors will likely be needed on the front end, if not longer.

The Water Council was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to build a regional “innovation engine” around water and energy, and one of the components of that task is building awareness among investors. The Wisconsin Technology Council is among the partners that will help.

From Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward to the twin communities of Adams-Friendship (about 2,500 total population) may seem like a giant leap, but people who turned out there June 29 for a workshop on launching and growing a business confront similar challenges.

Held at the MoundView Golf Course in Friendship, the three-hour event was part of the State of Wisconsin Initiative to Fast Track Entrepreneurs, or SWIFT. It’s a series being produced by the Tech Council with support from the U.S. Small Business Administration to demonstrate that entrepreneurism isn’t just for people in big cities.

Companies that may rise in largely rural places such as Adams County aren’t often techy in origin, but they likely will lever technology through Main Street, home or “mom and pop” businesses to serve the community and sometimes well beyond. Examples discussed there included personal care and wellness, mechanical repairs, transportation services and more.

Those aren’t often the kinds of businesses that attract angel or venture capital investors, but an angel investor on hand in Friendship made sure participants heard about equity financing and a local banker described debt financing. The role of crowdfunding in small business formation was also discussed by a regional director from the Small Business Development Center.

Legal steps involved in starting a company and resources available to entrepreneurs were outlined. The importance of having a strong “elevator” pitch was stressed for businesses of any type, as it’s often the best way to get in the door with a potential customer or client. Business plans come in different forms — and all they’re destined to change in time — but presenters agreed they’re often necessary when meeting investors, bankers or others who might help to finance the business.

Entrepreneurs of all types are essential to the economy. They help bring new products and processes to the market while creating the bulk of all net new jobs. Whether they’re in Milwaukee, Friendship or anywhere between, their challenges are similar and their vision and persistence are common traits.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at