Investors, including Craig Schedler at a recent Wisconsin Technology Council Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee

For the better part of the last decade, and starting as early as the 2000s, many multibillion-dollar corporations, from Madison to Milwaukee, have become active venture capital investors.

In the past 18 months alone, companies along the Interstate 94 corridor have committed collectively more than $450 million to venture capital investments, which includes the $100 million Wisconn Valley Venture Fund, a Milwaukee-based fund comprising a $25 million contribution from Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls International, Advocate Aurora Health and Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, which has its North American headquarters in Milwaukee.

“One of the reasons why we’re so bullish on the opportunity here in our backyard in the Midwest, and in this corridor, is there is a huge presence of Fortune 500 companies locally that are increasingly becoming active investors to support the local community, but they also represent the target customers for a lot of these startups,” said Jim Pavlik, a partner at Baird Capital, the Chicago-based investment arm of Milwaukee private investment and wealth management firm Baird.

Through these strategic investments into big-idea startups, these giant companies have not only pocketed some high-value financial returns, but have become customers of these startups while gaining insight into cutting-edge technology that aims to disrupt their multibillion-dollar businesses.


The variety of startups that receive investments from these corporations vary, from health technology, to financial services, to smart building technology.

In May, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures launched a second corporate venture capital fund of $150 million. It was an extension of a previous fund of $50 million that launched in 2017, but is now fully committed. Northwestern Mutual tripled the size of the first corporate fund to capture more opportunities emerging in the market, where companies are innovating in financial technology and how modern consumers engage with finances in the digital age, digital health, client experience and data analytics.

“At a high level, that shows it’s delivering value,” said Craig Schedler, venture partner with Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, on launching the second fund. “In terms of how it’s delivering that value, we’ve developed a variety of partnerships and ways in which we’re leveraging companies, whether that be to offer additional products to our customers or for Northwestern Mutual to be a customer of our companies as they’ve developed innovative things that advance our strategy.”

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