WisBusiness: State firms eager to share in 2005 venture capital jackpot

Brian E. Clark

MADISON – A panel of financial experts taking part in an MIT Enterprise Forum predicted on Thursday night that U.S. venture capital firms would raise between $12 and $15 billion in 2005.

But how much – or little – of that money makes it to start-ups in Wisconsin is open to question, attendees at the MIT Club function at the Fluno Center said.

Steve Roe, a 1985 MIT mechanical engineering graduate, now practices patent law at the Lathrop & Clark law firm in Madison. For the past 13 years, he was a partner at an Alexandria, Va. law firm.

“I hope this will be a good year for start-ups seeking VC funding here in Wisconsin,” Roe said. “There is certainly no lack of viable companies here that can use the money.

“Unfortunately, it is very hard to get people from the coasts to invest here,” he said. “Creating awareness for what’s here is the problem.

“If investors would only look at what’s going on in Wisconsin, they would find good new firms with good technology that are really worth investing in,” he said.

John Neis, a senior partner at Venture Investors in Madison, said most of the $12 to $15 billion that will be raised nationally by venture capital firms would be spent on the coasts.

“It’s kind of hard to put those numbers into perspective for Wisconsin,” he said. “There are only a handful of venture capital funds in the state.”

But he said his firm, which is based at the University Research Park on Madison’s West Side, would soon be initiating an effort to raise $100 million.

“Most firms have fully invested money they raised in 2000,” he said. “And we’ve had some real successes with companies like Tomotherapy and Third Wave. There is a lot of potential in this state.”

Allyn Ziegenhagen, who earned a master’s degree from MIT in 1959 and later did his PhD work in chemical engineering at UW-Madison, is treasurer of the Wisconsin MIT Club.

He said he hopes his organization, with its connections across the country, can help bring attention to Wisconsin’s high-tech and bioscience companies.

“That’s why we’re holding sessions like this,” he said. “The aim is to bring out anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship and venture capital funding.”

The MIT Club also has given out Wisconsin Technology Awards for the past two years to individuals and to small, medium and large companies that have contributed to Wisconsin’s economy through technological innovation. This year’s event will be held March 10 in Waukesha.