WisBusiness: Former cable mogul now helping women entrepreneurs

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – Kay Koplovitz took over her kindergarten class in Cudahy when she was only three years old, according to her parents.

It turned out to be early training for a career that has included the founding of USA Network, the Sci Fi Channel and USA Networks International, plus some current companies and organizations that help link venture capitalists with women entrepreneurs and others.

Koplovitz, who was born and raised in South Milwaukee, delivered the luncheon speech at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur Conference Tuesday.

“Entrepreneurship is a life journey,” she told the audience of mostly entrepreneurs and business people. “It’s a calling in some way. I hope you enjoy the ride. I certainly have enjoyed mine.”

Koplovitz’s journey has included the founding of the USA Network companies, which started as Madison Square Garden cable service in 1977.
She served as chairperson and CEO of that company until it was sold for $4.5 billion in 1998.

In 2000, she created Springboard Enterprises to raise venture capital for women entrepreneurs, and has since presented 275 companies that raised $2 billion or more in capital.

In 2001, Kolplovitz co-founded Boldcap Ventures, a capital fund that invests in technology and life sciences. She also has served on a commission created by then President Bill Clinton to promote entrepreneurship among women. And she is the author of “Bold Women, Big Ideas.”

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, with a masters’ degree from Michigan State, Koplovitz said in an interview before her address that an entrepreneurs need to feel “passionate about what they are doing.”

“If you love what you are doing, it helps when you are putting in those 20-hour days and going though the inevitable ups and downs,” she said.

Koplovitz was a science major at UW and also studied communications. She produced television programs for WHA and WTMJ, but it was while on a trip to Europe “for fun and games like any college student” that she heard a lecture by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke about the use of satellites in communications.

“It was such a powerful idea,” she said. “Instant communications around the world, and it could penetrate behind borders. Remember this was in the 1960s and the Cold War. I found it fascinating to think about communicating behind those borders.

“The idea so compelled me. We could really open the doors to people’s minds and communicate the wonderful spirit we have here in America.”

Koplovitz now admits she had no idea how she was going to accomplish this at the time, since there were only three over-the-air networks and cable TV still was in its infant stages.

She obviously figured it out. As for taking over her kindergarten class, she said, “It’s true. It actually wasn’t my class, but I decided for what reason I don’t know that was where I belonged.”

Also at the luncheon, the “Seize the Day Award” was presented to Bob Cervenka, founder of Phillips Plastics. The award is presented for “innovative leadership and ability to take hold of business opportunities and transform them into success.”

Last year’s award winner, Don Weber, CEO and chairman of Logistics Health, presented the award. Bruce Niemi, a Kenosha artist, created the award – a 7 1/2 foot high, 50 pound sculpture.