WisBusiness: Venture Capital Leader Says Wisconsin Must Work Harder

By Brian E. Clark

When it comes to venture capital funding, Wisconsin is a victim of its geography.

That simply means Badger State start-ups must work
harder than there counterparts on the coasts to lure financiers here to fund growing companies, says Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association.

Heesen also oversees the association’s affiliate,
American Entrepreneurs for Economic Growth, which
represents 14,000 emerging growth companies.
He will be the keynote luncheon speaker on Friday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

The conference, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Technology Council, begins Thursday. See http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com/Events/win/index.aspx?ID=128.

“You can’t get around it, Wisconsin is not on either coast,” said Heesen, who has worked in the venture capital since 1991. “You’ve got to do something extra to get people to get off airplanes and see what you have going.”

Heesen said Wisconsin is doing a good of accentuating the top-flight research that is coming out of UW-Madison and other universities in the state.

He also lauded the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) for investing in Wisconsin companies.

“You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and you’re doing that,” he said.

And he praised the strategy of building angel networks in the state and said they will help create venture-ready companies in which financiers might be interested in investing.

“Venture capitalists are followers, not leaders,” he said. “They will invest in companies that have reached a certain point. Others have to get them there.”

In response to a question, Heesen said last year’s
vote by the state Legislature to ban some kinds of
stem cell research in Wisconsin would cause financiers to have second thoughts about investing here.

Even though Gov. Jim Doyle later vetoed the bill,
Heesen said it did not help to have lawmakers appear to be anti-science.

And while UW-Madison scientific prowess and the
technology transfer expertise of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation are admired in some circles, Heesen said the state cannot rest on its laurels.

“You have to keep telling your story,” he said. “No one is going to do it for you. And you also have to work with other states to bring investors to the region.”