Missouri Road Trip Stories

Recently I was traveling in Missouri. While in Columbia, I read in the Columbia Missourian that The University of Missouri System Enterprise Investment program has pledged to invest up to $5 million for university-affiliated start-up ventures. The UM System is drawing from its investment portfolio (worth $2.4 billion at the end of 2009) to offer selected entrepreneurs up to $500,000 each in seed money.

In essence, the UM System is taking the role of angel investor to promote job growth.

“This is providing places for our graduates to be employed in Missouri,” stated Mike Nichols, VP for research and economic development for UM. He also admitted to the newspaper that Missouri entrepreneurs have historically faced more investment hurdles than their counterparts in surrounding states, so technology commercialization and innovation output suffers.

The goal of the UM, as an angel investor, isn’t necessarily to make the more traditional return in investment expected by actual angel investors who do it for a living — it merely wants to break even — and so the bar is a little lower to win a bid than it would be for a start-up asking for private donations.

If the university can just break even, the story explained, UM plans to declare the enterprise to be a perpetual fund, which would provide a consistent source of angel and venture capital for university-affiliated start-ups.

I applaud UM for the initiative, and for the realization that it takes money to make money and to create jobs. Without the support of WARF at the University of Wisconsin, which is the patent and licensing arm for UW’s research related enterprise, and which is critical to moving research to the applied marketplace, Madison would not have the breakthrough technology successes it has. And also, it has taken a group of private investors with vision in this area (Terry Sivesind and his cohorts who led the way) and the nerves of steel they have shown to become serial entrepreneurs and investors.

It takes a vision and then, just as important, it takes the guts and the bucks to fund the vision.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not understand the symbiotic relationship of vision and money when it comes to existing businesses and the potential for job creation. While on the road, I also followed the debate over a CEO group’s request to The Fed that corporate taxes be set aside to give companies the support they need to create jobs.

Some government economists have resisted the idea, predicting that some U.S. companies would, instead, use the extra profit as a hedge against another recession. And, one argued, Microsoft has enough money to create jobs without a tax break. (Yes, use the giant as your example of average American businesses. Let’s not do it if Microsoft, the Evil Empire success story, might benefit.)

And wouldn’t it be awful if smaller companies also banked some of the money? Since cash-flow funding has dried up and the marketplace is uncertain, darn those companies that would put some of the money earned in a depressed marketplace in the bank as a hedge against a rainy day. Certainly, closer to home, the Wisconsin Legislature can’t see the wisdom of a Rainy Day Fund.

No, let’s claim that money for the government to spend on its programs that have stimulated so much job growth recently …

A lighter story from the road. Also while I was in Missouri, a 300-pound chimpanzee escaped from her owner and created a police standoff. I’ve been writing, in my blog “After Hours,” about animal intelligence, and I cracked up when I read this account in The Kansas City Star: “The 21-year-old ape, named Sueko, pointed and laughed at residents and flipped off an animal control officer, witnesses said.”

A police and animal control officer arrived on scene: “When Sueko saw the tranquilizer gun, she charged the [squad] car, climbed on the hood, and kicked the windshield, breaking it.” No human was injured, however.

Good to know wild women cross species.

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