TUE AM News: Milwaukee startup ecosystem poised for health care investment growth; Local leaders pushing for diversity in tech workers

— Members of Milwaukee’s startup ecosystem see potential for the city to capture more venture capital dollars in the health care sector. 

Speaking at a kick-off event for Startup Milwaukee Week, Venture Investors Chief Financial Officer David Arnstein noted more than $2.8 billion was invested in Midwest health care companies last year, with about $900 million of that in digital health applications. And Midwest health care investments have risen 40 percent in the past five years, he added. 

“The Midwest is growing like crazy in health care investing,” he said yesterday. “I think Milwaukee and the Midwest in general has all the ingredients to capture those dollars that are being invested.” 

Venture Investors is based in Madison and has more than $275 million in assets under management. Arnstein said the venture capital firm looks for companies that “take the cost out of health care,” particularly those with intellectual property rights. 

The fund backed a startup called TAI Diagnostics in 2015, which has a diagnostic test to monitor the health of transplanted organs based on research conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

“Great example of the strong academic institutions in Milwaukee and the region,” he said. “Great scientists, great technology, and we led the round and the company is off and running.” 

Venture Investors led a Series A round, and the company went on to raise about $20 million over time. The company’s founders came to Milwaukee from the West Coast, where they sold their previous company for more than $500 million. 

“It’s always helpful to have entrepreneurs that have been successful before,” he said. “They know the space well, have been through the ups and downs … As an investor, definitely it’s a little more comfortable to back entrepreneurs that have had strong exits.” 

Chris Widmayer is co-founder and CEO of Penrod, a Milwaukee company that provides software development services for life science companies. He believes the city’s startup ecosystem would improve if “we double down on what we’re good at.” As more health tech companies grow and founders take exits, the ecosystem gains expertise as well as more industry-focused capital. 

“If we’re great at health care, great at manufacturing, great at other technologies, that’s going to attract people here,” he said. “We’ll become a health care city for technology.”

See more: http://www.wisbusiness.com/2019/milwaukee-startup-ecosystem-sees-potential-for-health-care-investment-growth/ 

— Panelists at the Startup Milwaukee Week kick-off agreed more diverse workers are needed, as various pools of potential talent are going untapped.  

Kristina Ropella is a professor of biomedical engineering and director of the joint PhD program in functional imaging between Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin. She says “ugly stereotypes” surrounding the tech field are limiting Milwaukee’s potential in that area. 

“Last week I sat on a panel and heard a Milwaukee business leader say, ‘We need to have more nerds attracted to and staying in Milwaukee,’” she said yesterday. “That kind of comment just makes me cringe … It’s no wonder that more women, more diverse, underrepresented groups aren’t coming into those fields.” 

Tarik Moody, digital director for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, says the station’s 88Nine Labs program is seeking to make tech more accessible and inclusive. He noted Milwaukee has been named the most segregated city in the country for African Americans, adding the program aims to help address that problem. 

“To be honest, I want to see more people who look like me in this space,” he said. 

Part of the problem, Ropella said, is that employers perpetuate industry stereotypes by looking at a narrow range of candidates that safely fit the mold.

“It’s time to get out of that comfort zone and bring a much greater spectrum of people to the tech field,” she said. 

Moody says 88Nine Labs brings in speakers and entrepreneurs of color and women from across the country to speak at local events. The station also hosts hackathons — “probably the most diverse hackathons you’ll probably ever see” — in partnership with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Feeding America. 

“We really believe that representation matters,” he said. 

This year’s AfroTech Conference was held last week in Oakland, and Moody said large companies like Twitter, AT&T and Home Depot had a presence there to attract minority talent to their companies and cities. Moody says events like those could provide an opportunity for groups like WEDC and Visit Milwaukee to attract diverse workers and untapped talent to the state. 

— Gov. Tony Evers has hired Brad Pfaff as the Department of Administration’s director of business and rural development with a slight pay cut compared to his old job as DATCP secretary.

In the new role, Pfaff will advocate for Wisconsin small businesses and rural communities, according to an announcement from DOA Secretary Joel Brennan.

The Senate last week rejected Pfaff’s nomination to be DATCP secretary amid complaints from Republicans that he had politicized the agency. The guv and others were sharply critical of the move, a first in at least the last 32 years.

“While our residents have lost an advocate for our rural heritage and consumers in need of protection at the cabinet level, I’m proud to bring Brad onto the team at DOA to ensure his expertise and Wisconsin values are utilized to grow our economy,” Brennan said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who had a sharp exchange with Pfaff this summer and was critical of his leadership of DATCP, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

See more at WisPolitics.com: http://www.wispolitics.com/2019/mon-pm-update-ousted-datcp-secretary-pfaff-takes-job-as-doa-director/ 

— The Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce is recognizing La Crosse-based Logistics Health Incorporated for its commitment to hiring military veterans, service members and their families. 

According to a release, LHI is the first company to meet the criteria for the chamber’s Five Star Employer Rating. Over the past four years, the business has grown from 400 employees to more than 2,200. During that period, the company maintained a 12 percent employee population of service members, veterans and spouses. 

LHI also created an advisory board for military employees, which hosts events and performs other outreach efforts. Plus the company promises to continue paying base salary to National Guard and Reserve Service members who are deployed, regardless of the length of their service. 

See more on the chamber’s rating system: http://wisconsin-veterans-chamber-of-commerce.myshopify.com/pages/invest-in-vets-5star-program 

— Lawmakers are circulating a bill for co-sponsorship that would require DHS to reimburse costs for a peer recovery coach who provides help to those in treatment or recovery from mental illness or a substance use disorder. 

The legislation is being circulated by Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point. The deadline for co-sponsorship is today. 

See the co-sponsorship memo: http://www.wisconsinlobbyists.com/resources/Co-Sponsorship%20Memos/11.8.2019/LRB-2886%20Reimbursement%20for%20peer%20recovery%20coach%20services%20through%20MA%20program%20and%20care%20following%20an%20overdose%20Memo.pdf 

— Former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson are reviving an effort to lobby on behalf of businesses in the Midwest, with members from 12 states. 

The Midwest Council was launched in 2013 and yesterday announced a plan to redouble efforts to promote pro-business legislation on the national level. The group’s new website shows members include manufacturers, health care providers, education groups and others. 

“The Midwest Council connects our region to Washington and effectively advocates for our interests on Capitol Hill,” Thompson said in a release. “They have the experience and relationships needed to inform policymakers and deliver results.”

The former governors are joined by Senior Advisor Joe Fadness, founder of public affairs firm Franklin Strategy. Midwest Council offices are located in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and Washington, D.C. 

When the organization was first launched, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wisconsin-based members included Alliant Energy Corp., the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. 

See the group’s new website here: http://themidwestcouncil.com/ 

— WEDC is hosting a Canadian trade venture in March 2020, with stops in Vancouver and Winnipeg. 

Canada is the top export market for Wisconsin and the nation, with $7 billion in state exports in 2018 and $299 billion in national exports. According to a release, the two cities for the trade trip were chosen for their “strategic importance” for Wisconsin companies, with specialties in various types of manufacturing and forest products. 

The venture is planned for March 8-13, and the deadline to register is Jan. 10, 2020. 

See more on upcoming trip: http://wedc.org/blog/global-trade-venture-canada-2020/ 


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