Ability Network Exit a Win For WI Investors Outside Metro Hubs

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took some strategic investment in the last year or so. [Editor’s note: CVAIN is not an investor in JAMF.]

There is other, what I call guardian angel or super angel activity in the region that you see happen. That stuff is going on.

And I see a lot of the IT-type of stuff, which probably is a residual from the Cray Computer days, which was the major player in the region. Now that’s turned into Silicon Graphics, TTM [Technologies], and all the spinoff companies, including the Cray Computer that’s still there.

But then programmers and the other high-tech type companies were affected by that and are here because of that. I think that’s part of the reason why Chippewa Valley Technical College developed their nanotechnology development center. And UW-Stout has their Discovery Center with an incubation center as well, and there is a pretty good-sized materials science lab at UW-Eau Claire. There’s a lot of the support structure in the area for that type of high-tech that’s really somewhat quiet from a statewide view.

Then you have companies like Phillips Plastics [now Phillips-Medisize], and I know there have been offshoots that have come off of them.

Then also in the lifestyle businesses, there’s a lot of activity that’s going on. It could be camping equipment; it could be grow boxes for growing flowers and plants inside apartments.

There’s also been some growth in entrepreneur networks. The Innovation Foundation of Western Wisconsin is something that’s popped up to help people who want to start up companies. There are a lot of ideas out there that aren’t yet ready for primetime and ready to kickoff, and there are some that are just bootstrapped, and they’ll start it up and they can get going.

X: Are you bullish on the future for startups outside of Wisconsin’s two major hubs?

PM: Yeah, I am. I think that it’s a good time. I think that the economy is improving, which I think helps. When the recession hit, I think you saw…a lot of people starting things up because they didn’t have any other options, and they may not be really meeting a market need. Then they might move back into the labor force when things improve.

But now, the ideas I’ve been seeing in the last year and a half or so seem to have a little more substance to them. That’s a combination of things, but I think it looks pretty good.

No matter who does it and when they do it or where they do it, it’s always hard work. It’s just as hard in Eau Claire as it is in Madison or in Ladysmith.

X: Is there anything holding back your region from having startup activity?

PM: There are a lot of resources, but they’re spread out. It’s not the same way if you’re … Next Page »

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Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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