Northwestern Mutual, Rockwell & Other Milwaukee Firms Fund gBETA

Advocates of entrepreneurship in the Milwaukee area have long argued that forging more connections between startups and old-line businesses headquartered there could lead to more people starting and building companies in the city.

Lately, business leaders in greater Milwaukee have been taking steps to help the city realize that vision. The latest example is an announcement from life insurance and financial services giant Northwestern Mutual that it plans to help fund a series of startup accelerator programs run by the Wisconsin-based organization Gener8tor.

Support for gBETA—a series of free, seven-week accelerator programs Gener8tor puts on that help entrepreneurs with things like pitching their products, adding users and customers, and raising money from investors—in Milwaukee will also come from Rockwell Automation (NYSE: ROK), Kohl’s (NYSE: KSS), Robert W. Baird & Co., and the Milwaukee Institute. Together, they will pay for all operating costs for gBETA in Milwaukee over the next two years.

“Milwaukee’s entrepreneurial spirit is fueling a vibrant startup community, which needs capital and support at the earliest stages of ideation,” says John Schlifske, CEO and chairman of Northwestern Mutual, in a prepared statement. “By working together, we will make a greater impact to strengthen our tech community.”

In the past year, Northwestern Mutual has launched two new venture capital funds: a $50 million fund that invests in startups across the country, and a $5 million fund that will support companies based in southeastern Wisconsin.

Gener8tor co-founder Joe Kirgues says gBETA Milwaukee will enroll three classes of startups per year. The accelerator will be based out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.

gBETA, launched in 2015, has been held in Milwaukee twice previously. The program has also been held in two other Wisconsin cities—Madison and Beloit—as well as in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Unlike its core accelerator program, Gener8tor does not invest or take equity in companies that participate in gBETA. Startups that go through the program get a space to work from, as well as access to investors, subject matter experts, and experienced entrepreneurs.

Only time will tell if bringing together early-stage businesses with larger, more established ones will help shift Milwaukee’s reputation from startup backwater to innovation hotspot. In any case, entrepreneurship champions are likely to view this news as a step in the right direction.

“We’re proud to work with Milwaukee’s leading institutions in Northwestern Mutual, Baird, Kohl’s, Rockwell, and UWM to support Milwaukee’s emerging entrepreneurs,” Kirgues says.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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