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Apr 12, 201811:40 AMOpen Mic

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Nothing ventured, nothing gained: Investing in Wisconsin innovation

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Participation in the entrepreneurial economy is in the self-interest of the mature companies in our leading industries. Attraction and retention of risk takers and engagement with entrepreneurs is contagious. It encourages intrapreneurship, returning these companies to the cultural roots that made them leaders.

Wisconsin’s political leadership can help with the kind of policy decisions around startups that can spur jobs and growth, long-term commitments that take more than a two-year election cycle to pay off. For example, consider how the state could further encourage broader participation in capital formation and create opportunities for the State of Wisconsin Investment Board to increase its venture capital allocation. What policies will help attract and retain the necessary human capital? What more can we do to encourage the licensing of our intellectual capital in Wisconsin, instead of letting it go out of state to the highest bidder?

WARF could play an important role in keeping innovation local — a Grow Wisconsin, Invest Wisconsin approach — by licensing new technology here or, if licensing elsewhere, encouraging that they commercialize in the state. There is an opportunity to measure the return beyond royalties, such as entrepreneurial faculty retention, research collaboration, job creation, wealth creation, and the philanthropy from successes. We should give serious consideration to the total benefit of building entrepreneurial capabilities at home.

Finally, we need to engage the participation of all of our stakeholders. UW–Madison has 400,000 living alumni fanned out across the globe. We need to keep them engaged for their advice, access to their networks, to attract their investment, or recruit them to return home. If we engage them as participants in the Wisconsin Idea, it will increase their philanthropy.

When you have a chance to help take something out of a lab and bring it to the market, and it impacts the health of people and the economy of the community, the rewards go way beyond financial. This is what brings the Wisconsin Idea to life.

John Neis is executive managing director of Venture Investors LLC, an early stage venture capital firm with offices in Madison, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cory Nettles is founder and managing director of Generation Growth Capital Inc., a private equity fund with headquarters in Milwaukee. This commentary is part of a series of articles organized by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). For over 90 years WARF has promoted a cycle of innovation through advancement of University research discoveries to the market and reinvestment in research at UW–Madison. Comments on this piece are encouraged at See or WARF’s Cycle of Innovation for more details on WARF.

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