MILWAUKEE — At a startup-themed Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he would like to see state startup investment become a conversation point in the governor’s race.
“We’ve got a gubernatorial election coming up and, regardless of who you’re going to support, one thing we can all do is ask — what are you going to do for startups in Wisconsin?” Abele said. “I want to see candidates feeling like they have to address that.”
The state Legislature passed a bill earlier last year that earmarked $25 million for startup investment in five industries, including information technology, engineering, and medical devices. Abele launched his investment firm, CSA Partners, around the same time. The firm has a fund of around $10 million, according to Abele. He said the state’s burgeoning investment culture will require work to maintain momentum.
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“One thing I really want to focus on is, we make sure we never mistake the flash and the fluff for the substance,” said Abele. “The worst you can do is have a big flashy announcement at the beginning and have some burnouts at the end, because all that does is diminish the investment community.”
“When we do have something be excited about, and we do in the startup community, we need to talk about it,” said Abele.
In a panel discussion, Dan Einhorn of Capital Midwest Fund said he’s seen “fantastic” changes in the startup community over the last two years. Einhorn started his fund in 2008 with his brother David, a former hedge-fund manager. Einhorn said he is feeling ‘bullish’ compared to 2012.
“I think healthcare IT companies are going to do very well in this state in the near term,” Einhorn said.
Dan Palay of Tactics II Ventures agreed, referencing the success of companies like Madison-based Epic. Palay’s fund has previously made investments in the life science industry, including Cellular Dynamics, a stem cell research company. Palay said capable management is major factor in the viability of an investment, but added marketability plays a role in his decisions.
“It’s not an accident that the managers at our fund also hold the top management positions at [Cellular Dynamics],” said Palay. “Even with great people and interesting technology, if the market isn’t there, that’s pretty much a non-starter.”
Abele and Einhorn concurred. Palay credited the rise of startup culture, in part, for revitalization in the state’s urban areas.
“Downtown Milwaukee looks very different that it did ten years ago,” said Palay. “I think you see lots of young people that are the type to start companies.”
The panelists agreed again on the importance of personal recommendations, and networking in securing investment funds.
“Over the last four years, a lot of the meetings that I take are to develop a network so that I have people to go to when I need some things that are important,” Einhorn said.
The Wisconsin Innovation Network is the membership subsidiary of the Wisconsin Technology Council. WIN hosts monthly networking and entrepreneurship events in Milwaukee and Madison.