Baldwin looks to help startups access capital with new bill

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says her new bill aims to fix “the major stumbling block” for Wisconsin entrepreneurs: the lack of capital.

That’s because, the Madison Dem said, she hears repeatedly from entrepreneurs and those who help them that there isn’t enough money available for them to grow their ideas. And she says that will help turn around “extremely disappointing” figures that include Wisconsin’s dead-last ranking in startup activity.

“The excitement, the engagement is definitely still there,” she told yesterday. “It’s the roadblock of not being able to attract capital.”

It’s not the first time she’s pushed the proposal; it was actually the first bill she introduced as a U.S. senator. But she said she’s hopeful that after the elections, it becomes a “front-burner issue” for a Congress that she says hasn’t been paying enough attention to small businesses.

The bill would boost funding for startups by up to $4 billion through a new fund overseen by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The funds to startups would come through equity investments in “targeted growth industries.”

The industries include advanced manufacturing, ag tech, biotech, clean energy, water technology and IT. And they include life sciences and biotechnology, two sectors that are largely excluded from the state’s new venture capital fund.

Baldwin said Gov. Scott Walker and state lawmakers were “neglectful” by establishing a fund that didn’t fully back the spinoffs from places like UW-Madison or the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“Why wouldn’t we want to harness that and build upon that incredible potential?” she asked.

Baldwin was part of a roundtable of entrepreneurs at last month’s Forward Festival in Madison, a gathering of the region’s tech sector. One issue she noticed was the increasing levels of student debt, which “really hampered” their ability to get funding for a startup.

On that end, she pointed to a bill she introduced that, among other things, would let student loan borrowers refinance their debt at lower rates.

Baldwin’s also been working with the Milwaukee-based Water Council to boost funding toward the water technology industry. This month, she said, she was able to pass an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act that would do just that.

Her amendment sets up a water technology grant program that would fund public-private partnerships to help companies test out their technologies. That includes, she said, smart pipes that send notifications when water is contaminated.

“We need to replace lead pipes in our country,” Baldwin said. “How about deploying some of the technology that has been developed in Wisconsin like smart pipes … Why not create markets for these things that are being discovered and nurtured in our state?”

Listen to the interview

See the bill

— By Polo Rocha,

Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times