By Tom Still

MADISON, Wis. – If you’ve ever gone on a “speed date,” and even if you haven’t, you probably get the concept: A short meeting in which both parties exchange a bit of information about one another and break the ice, with the goal of moving to the next level… or simply moving on with no regrets.

That’s the concept behind the ninth Wisconsin Tech Summit, which will be held in-person March 14 in Green Bay’s iconic Lambeau Field.

More on the corporate speed date format to follow, but your first question may be: “Why Lambeau Field?”

Lambeau is symbolic of the partnership between the Green Bay Packers, Microsoft, TitletownTech and other community leaders to build a stronger economy in northeast Wisconsin. The Packers see value in engaging in the state’s larger economy; Microsoft has research, education and broadband interests in Wisconsin (and a company president, Brad Smith, who hails from Appleton); and TitletownTech is a Green Bay accelerator focused on high-growth startups.

So, it’s a natural fit for Lambeau to be where some of Wisconsin’s biggest corporate names and a mix of emerging companies, mostly in tech sectors, will gather to talk about kindling a relationship.

On the “major firm” side of the aisle on March 14 will be 3M, Advocate Aurora Research Institute, American Family Insurance, Exact Sciences, Findorff, J.P. Morgan, Johnson Controls, Kimberly Clark, Kwik Trip, Marshfield Clinic Health Systems, OEM Fabricators, Oshkosh Corp., Rockwell Automation, Schreiber Foods, Shive-Hattery, Sub-Zero Group and TitletownTech. Some may be headquartered elsewhere, but they all have a Wisconsin presence.

Emerging companies can apply through the Wisconsin Technology Council website to meet with representatives of those companies – and perhaps other firms to be announced soon.

How does the Tech Summit work? Imagine scores of 15-minute “speed dates” between major companies and emerging companies, spread over the day. Many emerging companies wind up with dance cards that include multiple major firms.

The goal is to find areas of common interest – research and development, supply chain, sales channels, even investment or acquisition. In short, it’s about investigating potential strategic partnerships.

The meetings are purposely short to give the major companies a taste of what the emerging companies can offer, and to schedule as many meetings as possible for all concerned. Sometimes there’s a match; sometimes not.

Major companies only meet with emerging companies they choose to engage with, which means the summit is much less of a random meet-up than a calculated process based on what the young companies may offer in technology or other services.

Over time, according to Tech Council surveys, good things often happen after the young companies leave the meeting room. About 40 percent of those sessions result in some sort of interaction later. Some follow-ups have produced strategic partnerships or simply targeted contacts with others who can provide advice.

How do young companies take part? They visit to learn more, register and to fill out a short application form. Any fees can be refunded if an emerging firm is not selected.

For young companies, success is not exclusively about raising angel and venture capital. It’s about making the right business connections.

Large and small companies often travel in different “orbits,” even if they’re in the same business sectors, and they rarely collide except by chance. The Wisconsin Tech Summit’s speed-dating format aims to help some of those orbits to cross – and the state’s business development stars to better align.

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