WED AM News: Investment overview shows deals getting larger in Wisconsin; Hogan planning to leave WEDC in fall

— The latest investment overview from the Wisconsin Technology Council shows a “slight downtick” in the number of deals made last year, though the average size for those deals increased. 

That’s according to Tom Still, president of the Tech Council. He gave a preview of the group’s yearly Wisconsin Portfolio publication yesterday at a luncheon in Madison. The full report is set to be published in about a week. 

Starting in 2012, Still said the investment picture in Wisconsin began to show improvements in both the number and size of deals. Since then, that growth has been “fairly steady — at least in terms of dollars or deals or some combination thereof.” 

He said that shows “that we’re getting on the map in terms of a place that has good deals, that has good value around those companies that have strong valuations.” 

The average size of deals in 2018 increased “quite a bit,” Still said, reaching about $2.3 million. And the median deal size also went up significantly, “again reflecting that the deals are getting larger,” he said. 

Still noted the number of deals for more than $1 million has also increased, from 35 in 2017 to 47 last year. 

“Investors are putting more money into the companies they are investing in, and part of that is there are some more follow-on rounds as well,” he said. “As they mature, you’re seeing investors follow on, which I think is healthy too. It shows we’re producing more companies that are gaining traction.” 

As in previous years, health care and information technology were the two most popular areas for investment. 

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— WEDC CEO Mark Hogan said he will step down from his role in the coming months. 

Hogan confirmed his plans yesterday at the Milwaukee Rotary Club but failed to provide a specific date for departing the state’s jobs agency. 

WEDC spokesman David Callender told that Hogan’s plan dating back to former Gov. Scott Walker’s time in office was to leave sometime in the fall of 2019. Callender added that Hogan still has a number of projects in the works, and his departure would be based on the completion of those projects. 

A spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers noted that he has “a good and productive relationship” with Hogan and “appreciates both his leadership at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and his service to the people of Wisconsin.” 

A bill Republicans approved in the lame-duck session stripped Evers of the power to appoint the WEDC leader until September. 

“The staff at WEDC do great work promoting economic development of all shapes and sizes,” said spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. “Ensuring that those efforts continue in the future is a top priority for the governor.” 

Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still says Hogan’s tenure at WEDC helped “reinstate the confidence of WEDC staff in itself.” 

“There was probably a point where they felt a little under the gun,” he told “And I think while there were issues to be worked out, Mark has made it clear that he was going to take responsibility for those issues.” 

Still said WEDC staff members have been “really performing quite admirably,” especially given the size of the jobs agency. 

“He did a good job of taking the politics out of the organization, which allowed the staff to do their jobs,” he said. 

— Hogan said controversial policies passed under GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s administration helped make the state more attractive to businesses. 

But the Walker appointee also credited Dem Gov. Tony Evers for focusing on quality-of-life issues, which he said are essential to bringing companies to the state. 

Hogan, addressing the Milwaukee Rotary Club yesterday, quipped to a business reporter, “I’m not picking a fight with this slide,” as he stood before a screen listing policies including Act 10, right to work, prevailing wage and the manufacturing and agricultural tax credit. 

He said a large part of what WEDC has been able to accomplish “is due to how people outside the state of Wisconsin view Wisconsin.” 

Hogan said policies like right to work and the manufacturing and agricultural tax credit “are really important to site selectors.” 

“If you’re not right-to-work, you don’t get the opportunities,” Hogan said. 

But he said what preceded those policies were quality-of-life aspects of the state. 

He said it’s important to focus on issues like the workforce, education, health care and transportation, things he said were priorities in Evers’ budget. 

“So I don’t think it’s one or the other. It’s clearly a combination,” Hogan said. “No matter how good these policies are, if you don’t have good quality of life, you don’t have a good educational system, health care system, companies are not going to come to the state of Wisconsin. It is that simple.” 

— Hogan briefly became emotional while sharing the story of how he was convinced to lead WEDC. 

He said he turned Walker down three or four times but decided to join the agency after his son, Patrick Hogan, a former Walker aide, asked him, “If you don’t do it, who are you going to leave it to?” 

“That really resonated with me,” he said. 

He said he didn’t know what to expect at the agency, but was told by Walker and his team “they’re great people.” 

“And then I had three people walk out the door after I was there for a week, and I’m thinking, ‘How great are they if they leave after a week, or how great was I?'” he said. 

“But what I’ve seen over the last four years is that same effort is everywhere in the state,” Hogan said. “The hundreds and thousands of people that every day are choosing not to leave it to somebody else. So when I think about the prospects of the state, it’s only up.” 

Listen to the audio:

— A rural Wisconsin health system has achieved a 35 percent increase in diabetic eye screenings over three years, thanks to a new telehealth program being piloted with UW Health. 

Mile Bluff Medical Center in Mauston is offering a program in which patients can have a picture taken of their eyes at their local clinic. Images are sent more than 75 miles away to UW Health in Madison, where they are examined by retinal specialists for early signs of disease and other issues. 

According to a release from UW-Madison, Mile Bluff is the only full-service hospital in a six-county area, so residents struggle with access to care. Overall, the release shows 130,000 people in Wisconsin have diabetic retinopathy, a disease of the eyes that’s associated with diabetes. 

“Ultimately, our goal is to reduce vision loss in rural communities across Wisconsin by improving access to diabetic eye screening using teleophthalmology,” said Dr. Yao Liu, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and head of the telehealth project. Liu’s work is funded by a grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program. 

After creating a patient advisory group to examine diabetic eye screening rates through the telehealth project, Mill Bluff has changed its clinical practice guidelines. More than 340 patients have now benefited from teleophthalmology, the release shows. 

Aside from the Mill Bluff project, Liu’s research team is developing a “toolkit of clinical strategies” to expand the telehealth program for eyes to more sites in the state. The service is now available for diabetic patients when they visit their primary care doctors at UW Health East and Yahara Clinics. 

Liu’s team has also landed additional funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Eye Institute to support continuing studies. 

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— Marquette University and WARF are accepting applications for the third annual Force for Positive Change award, a “social entrepreneurship” program that rewards businesses for solving complex social or environmental challenges in the state. 

Eligible companies can be nonprofit or for-profit, but must have a revenue-driving product or service and must have staff based in the state. 

“This particular program has encouraged more organizations to talk about social innovation in Wisconsin and identify as social entrepreneurs than ever before — and that’s a great shift to see,” said Kelsey Otero, associate director of social innovation at Marquette.  

Applications are being accepted through mid-September. Starting in October, some applicants will be invited to the second phase of competition, where they will be reviewed by judges including investors and experts from the public and private spheres. 

Six $10,000 awards will be given to this year’s winners. Those awardees will be announced Nov. 15 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. 

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Apply here: 

— U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, raising concerns that a “senior advisor” to Ross could be impeding the nation’s progress toward 5G wireless technology. 

“It has come to my attention that one of your senior advisers may be placing personal animosity ahead of our country’s 5G goals. This threatens the clearly stated goals and priorities of the President and Congress,” the Oshkosh Republican said. 

In the letter, Johnson says several agencies “all of a sudden raised concerns” at the tail-end of a five-year process related to establishing 5G technology. He points to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — which are both part of the DOC — as well as NASA.  

Johnson cites comments from the Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai, who testified recently before a Senate committee that the claims made by NOAA are “fundamentally flawed.” 

Johnson says the objections raised by the agencies come “at a particularly sensitive time,” as national government representatives will be attending the upcoming World Radiocommunications Conference in October. 

“Preparation for WRC has long been in motion, and this dispute weakens our country’s leverage and ability to further secure America’s leadership at the conference,” he said. 

See the letter here: 


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– Teachers, students make final push for Evers’ education budget

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