Wisconsin slowly building its entrepreneurial foundation

Wisconsin slowly building its entrepreneurial foundation

By Tom Still, Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin_welcome_signWisconsin has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. Think of the marquee companies that remain the state’s economic “calling cards” – Oshkosh Corp., S.C. Johnson, Johnson Controls, Manitowoc Co., Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton, Johnsonville, Kohler, Kohl’s and Quad Graphics. These companies all have one thing in common: They were named after the Wisconsin community of their founding or the last names of their founders.

Today, a new generation of entrepreneurs and their partners are building Wisconsin’s 21st century “knowledge economy” on a foundation that has long included expertise in manufacturing and agriculture, but which has expanded to include health care, software, financial services, energy innovation and more.

It remains a highly organic process, born largely of people and communities in Wisconsin — with more external support today than ever before.

While the existence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wisconsin isn’t necessarily well known, even inside its borders, its growth over the past 15 years is a major reason why the state is gaining a reputation for being friendly to startups — even if one high-profile national ranking doesn’t show it.

Fifteen years ago, the entrepreneurial structure in Wisconsin was less than robust. Most of the formal assistance for entrepreneurs was clustered in the Madison area, with the Wisconsin Innovation Network, the Wisconsin Biotechnology Association (now BioForward), the Wisconsin Small Business Innovation Consortium and Accelerate Madison being among the early players. Read more …