By Tom Still

MADISON, Wis. – Mark Murphy, the former National Football League safety who heads the Green Bay Packers, has a few things on his mind these days — such as the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Aaron Rodgers, how to approach the April NFL draft, and other on-field decisions involving the storied franchise.

Murphy still has time, however, to reflect on the Packers’ role in the innovation economy of northeast Wisconsin.

Set to speak at the 10th annual Wisconsin Tech Summit inside Green Bay’s Lambeau Field on March 20, Murphy represents how the Packers have embraced their role in an early stage economy that exists within a long forward pass of the stadium. Along with Microsoft, the Packers are partners in “TitletownTech,” an accelerator just west of Lambeau with a portfolio of two-dozen tech-based companies.

It’s part of the larger “Titletown District” and symbolic of how the Packers – the smallest market professional sports franchise in North America – view their stake in the community.

Murphy was a talented player in his day, even helping Washington to a 1983 Super Bowl victory over Miami. What’s less known is that he earned an advanced business degree from American University and a law degree from Georgetown University. Those credentials help to explain why his tenure as president and chief executive officer of the Packers has gone beyond football.

Hosting the Tech Summit at Lambeau is one example. It is a speed-dating event matching 18 major companies with emerging firms, which have through Monday, Feb. 27, to apply.  How does the Tech Summit work? Imagine scores of 15-minute “speed dates” 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 is a match; sometimes not.

Major companies only meet with emerging companies they choose to engage with, which means the summit is not a random meet-up but a calculated process based on what the young companies may offer in technology or other services.

Major firms attending work in sectors that include manufacturing, information technology, financial services, construction, automation, consumer products, food, health care, life sciences, design and engineered products.

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 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.

The enlightened self-interest of the Packers, which is vested in the future of its market, extends the effects of the franchise beyond the boundaries of Lambeau. That’s promising news for companies that hope to grow in its extended shadow.

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