When more than 400 businesspeople, investors, innovation gurus and creative minds gathered at the first Launch Wisconsin event last year, they left with a lot of optimism about entrepreneurship in the New North.
“We hope to make an impact on the culture in our area, the conversation in our area, and we hope to be a unifying and mobilizing effort for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and business,” says John Ernst, who coordinated the first event with Zyquest Ventures, Green Bay. “The goal of Launch Wisconsin is to showcase and model the incredible talent, resources and spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in the area and the Midwest region.”
The second annual Launch Wisconsin event takes place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 at the Lambeau Field Atrium, with Ernst as president and executive director and Zyquest among the major sponsors. Ernst expects as many as 1,500 to 2,000 to attend this year (coming and going throughout the day with the option of adding another level at Lambeau to accommodate large numbers).
Registration starts at 10 a.m. on the fourth floor of the atrium and the program kicks off at 11 a.m. with exhibits, speakers, panel discussions and entrepreneur pitches. The day caps with networking and live music from 5 to 7 p.m. Entrepreneurs, corporations, venture capitalists and — to keep it current — Millennials who are entrepreneurs and professionals, including artists, musicians and film producers, have been specifically targeted for attendance, Ernst says.
About 100 speakers will present on four stages, representing 12 topical categories: Venture Capital, Enterprise, Gamification, Music and Art, Social, Food & Farm, Health Care, the Internet of Things, Sport, FinTech (financial technology), Reverse Pitch and Startup Pitch.
Paul Jones, chair of the Venture Best group at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP and member of Angels on the Water investing group, says Launch Wisconsin can fill a void in the New North region for a high-impact entrepreneurship and investing initiative.
“Northeast Wisconsin is second only to Milwaukee in terms of its economic footprint in Wisconsin — which is to say bigger than Madison. Yet Madison is the clear leader in the high impact entrepreneurship and investing space,” Jones says. “Given the growth in that key sector in Madison over the past half-dozen years, if Northeast Wisconsin doesn’t get in the game in a big way soon, we risk being left behind — way behind.”
Sara Woldt, director of business development for Gener8tor (a Madison and Milwaukee-based business accelerator program), and co-founder and chief organizer of OnRamp (a program that matches investors and mentors with entrepreneurs statewide), sees Northeast Wisconsin as ripe for nurturing early stage, high-potential businesses.
Leading up to Launch Wisconsin, Woldt will be coordinating meetings between investors, corporate innovation officers and entrepreneurs to take place at the Launch Wisconsin event. Much as she does with OnRamp, she is identifying individuals at companies who will spend time with entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas that could help them grow their companies in a fresh way.
“Startups have a hard time figuring out who the best contact would be in these large corporations, so my work is centered around identifying those individuals at large companies who have the appetite and enthusiasm to work with startups and help them navigate what it would look like to be a ‘customer’ of a startup or to invest in startups,” Woldt says.
Schneider National, American Family Insurance, Kohls, Harley-Davidson and Jewelers Mutual are among the national companies with representatives already on board to meet with entrepreneurs at Launch Wisconsin.
Speakers will represent national brands such as adidas, Microsoft Entertainment, Amazon and Sports Illustrated. Innovation leaders from several regional companies will also be in attendance, including Bay-Tek Games, Ascension HealthCare and Au Naturale Cosmetics. Venture capitalists will come from such organizations as Detonator and Project Foundry of Milwaukee, Maloney Ventures of Chicago and Gener8tor of Madison.
“Part of getting in the game is showing the folks in the rest of the Badger state, and beyond, that Northeast Wisconsin has the raw materials to play and win in high impact entrepreneurship and investing space,” Jones says. “At least one ‘signature’ event is critical to getting that message out. Launch Wisconsin could be that event.”