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Sep 4, 201812:47 PMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

As Wisconsin’s corporate ‘new kid,’ Foxconn motivating right playmates

(page 1 of 2)

At the lakeside unveiling of a $100-million corporate venture fund, the chairman of the Foxconn Technology Group said he was pleased, as the “new kid on the block,” to be a part of a team that included Advocate Aurora, Johnson Controls, and Northwestern Mutual.

The truth be known, Foxconn founder Terry Gou and his team of “new kids” are pushing the older crowd to do more.

Wisconsin and especially the Milwaukee region have always boasted a cadre of national and global companies. Few of those companies, however, have elected to invest in the venture capital asset class most likely to spark young companies.

It took the arrival of Foxconn, the world’s leading contract manufacturer of consumer electronics, to open more homegrown corporate eyes to taking on more risk by making technology investments at home and abroad.

The $100-million fund announced at Discovery World in Milwaukee won’t be bound by geography — few private venture funds are restricted in that way — and it can be expected to invest in strong tech deals in the region, the United States, and beyond.

Still, the nature of venture capital is the same everywhere: Many investors prefer to invest closer to home because they can better watch over their own deals, providing advice, management help, and money as the company grows.

Wisconsin’s existing Badger Fund of Funds is a different model for several reasons, starting with state government’s decision some years ago to invest on the same basic terms as private investors. That state investment means the Badger Fund of Funds is confined to Wisconsin companies, or young out-of-state companies it can persuade to move here.

The Badger Fund is also built to target the youngest companies, many at the “seed stage,” versus the full range of investments the Wisconn Valley Venture Fund could take on.

Both models can work together. The Wisconn Valley fund will eventually help many of Wisconsin’s existing funds and angel networks by providing another potential partner. It remains to be seen exactly how the Foxconn-led fund will be structured, however, and whether it will invest only directly in companies or through other funds, as well. Many observers would prefer the latter because existing funds provide experienced feet on the ground.

The Foxconn-led fund was one of two major announcements within two days, the first being its plan to invest $100-million in the UW–Madison College of Engineering for interdisciplinary research. The university will match that amount over time.

(Continued)

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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