Madison is increasingly known for its startup scene, but that’s far from the whole story when it comes to entrepreneurship in Wisconsin. Milwaukee is experiencing a renaissance of entrepreneurship, and in recent years as more startups come out of the Fox Valley, that area has also begun to offer the events and resources that help young companies thrive.
Thanks to the research leadership of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Madison region was set up decades ago for entrepreneurial success. Capitalizing on the opportunities coming out of the University, a wealth of resources for startups have emerged, including accelerators, incubators, angel and venture capital sources and more. Madison also boasts an active startup culture that encourages new entrepreneurs to connect with the people who can help them move an idea forward. EatStreet, Neuwave Medical and PerBlue are just a few recent examples of companies that have started and grown in Madison.
“Over the course of a generation, there has been a huge cultural shift from risk aversion and preference for the perceived security of working within large organizations to support your life, to a willingness to take a chance in small, innovative organizations,” said John Neis, managing director at Venture Investors. “The entrepreneur has become a societal hero, and they are more likely to encounter encouragement, support networks and resource availability in each successive decade.”
As the state’s largest city, Milwaukee was a natural place for this growing entrepreneurial spirit to spread. And while the city has long been known for its manufacturing and brewing prowess, don’t let these legacies fool you; many of Milwaukee’s powerhouse companies were started locally by visionary entrepreneurs, and now a new generation of Milwaukee-based startups is turning heads nationwide. For example, Inc. magazine recognized the benefits Milwaukee has to offer and ranked the city among its Top 3 “Unexpected Places that are Actually Amazing for Startups.” The city’s ample resources are combined with a vibrant culture and affordable living, which make it incredibly attractive to new businesses that don’t want the budget pinch of locations on the coasts. Notable startups in Milwaukee include Seven Marine, Scanalytics and many others.
“Milwaukee has a growing culture of entrepreneurship and an evolving ecosystem to support entrepreneurs,” said Brian Thompson, president of the UW-Milwaukee Research Foundation. “The universities are expanding programs to provide entrepreneurial skills to their graduates, networks of angel and early-stage investors are expanding, and incubator programs are helping entrepreneurs hone their business concepts to get funding.”
While the largest cities in the state are the obvious hot spots for startups, the Fox Valley is rapidly gaining ground. The area, which stretches to include Appleton, Oshkosh, Green Bay and the surrounding cities, has seen a spike in entrepreneurship in recent years. This trend is seen in the creation of large-scale events like Launch Wisconsin, a two-day summit for entrepreneurs that includes a keynote speech from Steve Case, the founder of AOL, to a pitch contest with a grand prize of $100,000. The Fox Valley has helped launch successful ventures including Snotco and Matchback Systems.
“For the last five years, Oshkosh has seen a spike in entrepreneurship, and with this spike, more resources have been pouring into the region,” said Colleen Merrill, director of the Small Business Development Director at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “Approximately five years ago, UW-Oshkosh became the first university in the region to launch a Center for Entrepreneurship, and as these students graduated and went out into the real world, they took what they learned with them and started new businesses in the Oshkosh area and beyond.”
From established startup communities to rising stars in entrepreneurship, Wisconsin’s innovation hubs have grown to encompass much of the state. In each community, business leaders, local and state officials, and investors are all working together to accelerate startup growth to continue producing the businesses and ideas of the future.
For more information on startup resources near you, visit InWisconsin.com/entrepreneurs.