Did you know that technology startups in Madison are getting funded at levels that Milwaukee startups could only dream of? A recent example is Madison-based Shoutlet (a social media campaign management platform) that just received $15 million in series C funding, bringing the total investment in this tech startup to a whopping $24.2 million. Unfortunately, Milwaukee tech startups are lucky to see $250,000 total, whether it comes from grants, angel investments, venture funding, and/or other seed money. How can we get Milwaukee on the map to attract and grow our equally promising tech startups?
Madison: Wisconsin’s Tech Hub
Madison is being hailed as Wisconsin’s current tech hub, and for good reason. This recent Fast Company article on Madison as a thriving technology investment hub explains why. Not only does Madison and the surrounding area regularly appear on all kinds of “best of” lists, but when newbies arrive, they find Madison offers a very savvy, friendly, collaborative, and well-connected tech community. Madison is now known for its participatory and welcoming tech community, and also its plentiful community resources, such as the UW E-Business Consortium, which fosters diversity, collaboration, and cross-pollination across a variety of local industries, large and small.
WI: Angel Investment Ops
The good news for all of Wisconsin is that there are significant tax credits in place. At the state level, Wisconsin offers a 25% tax credit to local early stage and angel investors who put their money on local startups. Plus, the legislation was amended last year to eliminate repayment of the credit (as the bill had previously outlined), even if the business is sold or fails entirely. This is huge for our state’s potential angel investors.
We need this here in Wisconsin. Because when these large companies are connecting with and fostering these small startups, they’re creating more opportunity than is obvious at first glance. Aside from the generous investment dollars, these connections allow both companies to benefit from the services the other provides – the startup without having to meet standard credit or size requirements, frequently otherwise nearly impossible to attain.
Wisconsin needs more of this kind of investment. Why not Milwaukee?
Milwaukee: Moving Forward
So even though here in Milwaukee, we have a sea of more demographically diverse residents, and even more universities - unfortunately, our city isn’t getting enough attention.
Despite that, we have an inspiring amount of potential in this area. There are a lot of great groups, people and spaces in Milwaukee working to ramp up the excitement around supporting entrepreneurship.
- The Shops of Grand Avenue working in conjunction with Creative Alliance Milwaukee created the Creativity Works Here initiative, which relocated twelve small business startups to revive and reinvent the previously struggling downtown mall.
- The new Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship at Marquette University recently opened and launched a startup incubator and support center for new businesses.
- Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE) is another asset to creatives and technology professionals. While not quite a full-on technology hub, it fosters the kinds of thinking and programs that a technology hub needs. By creating great awareness in the non-creative/non-technical industries within and outside of Milwaukee, MiKE events are beginning to produce the attention we absolutely need. A great example of that is Common Pitch Milwaukee.
- Additionally, there are now over 20 collaborative workspaces in Milwaukee, which shows support for small businesses through a community effort.
- Additional statewide groups and events continue to stir up support for the Milwaukee entrepreneurship community, such as StartUp Wisconsin and the periodic camp-style unconferences StartUp Accelerator.
Milwaukee is just in its infancy on its way to become a startup tech hub, and that excitement is something that needs to be maintained; that enthusiasm needs to keep its momentum. Milwaukee is on a good path, but there’s still a long way to go. As a city we need to find ways to break down barriers to better connect and to build stronger communities. And not just in the business world, but also in terms of socioeconomic divisions. It’s well known that Milwaukee has bigger urban problems than Madison; we have higher poverty rates, less access to healthcare and healthy food, and simply a greater, more diverse population.
Let’s work together to build and promote Milwaukee’s promise as the next big tech startup hub.