By Tom Still
MADISON, Wis. – Much like other markets in the uncertain 2022 economy, venture capital is an asset class not immune from troubles. Some investment sectors were riding high during the pandemic years but sagged since; others that lost favor for a while have climbed back into the game.
Those fluid trends, charted reliably by the National Venture Capital Association at the 50-state level, can help inform managers of early stage investment funds as well as entrepreneurs looking for money as both groups scout for opportunities.
In Wisconsin, where angel and venture investments shattered previous dollar-record totals in 2021, some observers were worried that 2022 would fall back significantly as rising interest rates, inflation, war in Ukraine and other factors took a toll. While total investments for the year will likely fall below the $869 million mark from 2021, they almost certainly will eclipse the $484 million and $454 million totals from the two previous years.
Through mid-September, about 45 Wisconsin angel and venture deals totaling $435 million have been informally recorded by the Tech Council Investor Networks. The median deal size is nearly $2 million and the average is about $10 million. As always, a final assessment must wait until well past the end of the year, but it’s not too early to conclude that Wisconsin is continuing to see larger deals and more out-of-state investors in those deals.
There are many reasons for that. Venture-track company valuations in Wisconsin are generally realistic compared to those in some other parts of the country; the cost of doing business in Wisconsin is more predictable; companies that raised modest first rounds five years ago are attracting larger investments today; and East and West coast venture firms are “discovering” the Midwest, its diverse technology base and its management talent.
Another factor that helps investors check out young companies are chances to see and hear founders and managers pitch their products and solutions.
One such forum is the Nov. 9-10 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in Madison, where it has been a fixture under that name since the early 2000s. Companies may apply now online through the Wisconsin Technology Council for a mix of three chances to get in front of investors.
The 2022 format includes two pitch opportunities – a five-minute track and the 90-second Elevator Pitch Olympics – as well as “Investor Intros.” This more informal setting allows scores of selected companies brief, one-on-one meetings with targeted angel and venture investors.
Because investors and others from across the Midwest and beyond want to hear about the latest trends in venture capital, the keynote speaker Nov. 9 will be Bobby Franklin, president of the National Venture Capital Association. He leads the group’s public policy efforts to promote entrepreneurism and investment.
The NVCA also runs Venture Forward, which has tutored more than 1,500 aspiring and early career venture capitalists, including many from historically under-represented communities.
Madison and Wisconsin can attract such national-caliber players in the investment world because the numbers bear it out. For example, Madison was ranked third among all U.S. cities for its recent growth in startup funding, behind only Kirkland, Wash., and Stanford, Calif., and in the same company as Santa Barbara, Calif.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cleveland, Ohio; Wilmington-Dover, Del.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Denver, Colo. The survey was done by York IE, an investment firm based in Manchester, N.H.
Larger deals helped push Madison to the top, but the increase in activity can be charted in cities such as Milwaukee, Green Bay, the Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls region and more.
Wisconsin will never be the Silicon Valley, Boston’s Highway 128 loop or New York City, but it’s on its way to being a Midwest hub for early stage investments. By weathering the storms of 2022 so far, the state is signaling it is here to stay.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He can be reached at email@example.com.