The venture community in Wisconsin over the past decade, broadly speaking, has seen a lot more involvement, with more activity happening across the state and more non-traditional players involved, says Carrie Thome, managing director at NVNG Investment Advisors. There's also a much greater awareness of how venture capital has a role in economic development and creating growth.
Looking back, Thome says there were only three institutional venture capital investors. Today, the number of people who are involved has exploded, comparatively. But even with all the changes and additional players, the venture ecosystem in Wisconsin is still small relative to neighboring states and the nation at large. That means there are gaps in in funding, though where those exist depends on who is being asked and the type of industry involved.
“If you are trying to get a therapeutic through clinical trials, you might tell me you think the biggest funding gap is your ability to fund those trials,” Thome says. “If you're trying to do an IT focused company, you probably can get money raised pretty easily up front. So it depends on where you are.”
For her, the biggest gap is in professionally run and managed VC. These investors bring more than just capital. They bring networks, mentors, connections to other Venture across the country, and the experience that’s needed on how to scale and build billion-dollar companies that would help attract talent. That’s an issue in part because serial entrepreneurs are more willing to start ventures where it's easy to raise capital. There, if the company doesn't work out, the entrepreneur has the confidence he or she can land someplace else.
The institutional investment community in Wisconsin has a great opportunity to increase the amount of people who are involved in venture capital. Venture, she says, is a great asset to add to a portfolio as both a diversifier and return generator, if it's done well in a fully formed portfolio. While one venture company might be very risky, a portfolio of, say, 400 companies is significantly less risky.
But, she says, access to funding might still be an issue, especially for small groups. But there’s been progress in creating more efficient vehicles that have provided access to venture capital without having to build the team or put that expertise in place, and it's provided the transparency and the strategic connections that they're seeking. This has proven to have some success getting folks involved in venture that wouldn't normally have been involved before — smaller organizations such as endowments and foundations — that just didn't have the bandwidth to put a team in place.
Thome spoke in more detail about the state of the venture world in Wisconsin at the Milwaukee Smart Business Dealmakers Conference. Hit play on the video above to catch the full interview with Dan Einhorn, general partner at Capital Midwest Fund.