Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial spirit

In September at the National Governors Association meeting, a 12-point action plan was launched to focus on growing state economies. Eight of the 12 action steps related to building and expanding an entrepreneurial culture. Why? Because start-up firms that develop organically have a major, long-term impact on strengthening the overall state economy, specifically in creating new jobs.

Wisconsin already fosters entrepreneurship in numerous ways, like addressing the need for early stage capital investment, expanding start-up resources, and supporting the innovation and commercialization of research coming from our world-class universities. But it’s the grassroots networks and entrepreneurial spirit that will drive start-up growth.

Wisconsin has a sub-culture of creativity and entrepreneurism that may be surprising. Inventors and entrepreneurs are leading the charge around the state – from Madison to Milwaukee and from Eau Claire to the Fox Valley. Here are just a few examples:

  • Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club of Juneau County, which began in 2002 and is now 2,000 members strong
  • Wisconsin Entrepreneur Network, which provides business planning assistance
  • Innovation Fund of Western Wisconsin, which offers business coaching and seed grant funding
  • Startup Milwaukee, a weekend-long frenzy of business model creation, design, and market validation of ideas, held earlier this month at Marquette University
  • Lake Superior Business and Technology Conference, held in Ashland in August, which included a contest for innovators to pitch their best ideas

Their passion is leading us. We must follow them.

First, we need to alter our attitudes, especially our deep-rooted fear of failure, and support a dynamic and collaborative approach to business creation. Without that, we will see innovative companies and our young entrepreneurs leave Wisconsin for more risk-friendly environments.


Second, we need to let entrepreneurs lead this start-up community. Entrepreneurs take action because they must to survive. The rest of us – government, larger companies, investors, and universities – provide the nutrients to feed that ecosystem. We feed it by collaborating with one another, listening to start ups, and implementing effective programs to support them.

We need to invest in entrepreneurial pursuits knowing some start ups will fail but one may be the success story of the future. Getting more start ups in the pipeline will benefit our economy through business and job growth as well as wealth creation and entrepreneurial experience, which stimulates more investments and companies. That recirculation of money, talent, and acceptance of risk and failure has made Silicon Valley what it is today.

Nov. 12-18 is Global Entrepreneur Week, and Gov. Walker has designated November as Entrepreneur Month in Wisconsin to highlight the role entrepreneurs play in building our economy.

During Entrepreneur Month and beyond, we need to encourage creative exploration in young adults and support new businesses development. And then we need to get out of their way.

Lisa Johnson is vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. She has spent more than 22 years in business development and technology licensing and operations in the biotechnology center.

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