FRI AM News: Panel: Badger Fund shows private-public funds can lift minority-owned startups; podcast features DFI Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld

— Since its launch in 2015, the Badger Fund of Funds has invested over $3 million in 25 Wisconsin companies with the goal of diversifying business within the state.

Three panelists — Jonathon Horne, Sam Rikkers and Dan Brooks — spoke about investing in new businesses at the Wisconsin Technology Council’s virtual Entrepreneurs’ Conference this week.

Nearly half of the fund’s total investments are from outside the business hubs of Milwaukee and Madison, said Brooks, a senior associate at Sun Mountain Capital. The funds investing in Wisconsin startups typically saw a $10 return for every $1 invested.

Idea Fund of La Crosse, which supports investment in western Wisconsin, manages 11 companies for the Badger Fund of Funds. Out of the 11, four businesses have female CEOs and four have CEOs of color.

“For us, these people were chosen because they’re extremely driven entrepreneurs who want to solve really hard problems in the state,” said Horne, managing director at the Idea Fund. “We’re probably more representative than the state in terms of the distribution.” 

Read the full story at 

— Wisconsin’s state-chartered banks reported a strong first quarter of 2021 as their total assets increased over $1.8 billion from year-end 2020, according to the Department of Financial Institutions.

“Overall, I can say that 2020 ended up being a much better year than we all expected at the beginning of the pandemic,” said DFI Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld in a new “WisBusiness: The Podcast” episode. 

“We’ve seen really good profitability due in part to the Paycheck Protection Program and the high demand for mortgage lending and refinancing,” she added.

That success has carried into 2021. In the year leading up to March 31, the capital ratio stayed strong, the past due rate declined and net operating income increased. 

Blumenfeld is waiting to see regulatory flexibilities pass in Congress that would allow Wisconsin banks to handle money from cannabis businesses across the border without penalties. She’s also looking to the state Legislature to pass bills to modernize statutes for banks and credit unions. 

Until then, DFI is working to stay on top of cybersecurity, watching commercial real estate, keeping virtual currency on their radar and analyzing financial risks associated with climate change.

“I’m really proud to say that our Wisconsin financial institutions, the way that they pivoted so quickly during the pandemic, they’re being led by leaders who are willing and prepared for constant change,” Blumenfeld said. 

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

See DFI’s first-quarter analysis: 

— The Public Service Commission has approved Xcel Energy’s 74-megawatt solar array in Pierce County. 

Once complete, the Western Mustang project will be the largest solar facility in western Wisconsin. The 1,100-acre project will be in the town of Gilman in the northeastern part of Pierce County. It will generate nearly $300,000 a year in shared revenue payments

for the county and town.

Ranger Power LLC is developing the project on behalf of Western Mustang Solar, LLC. Construction is expected to begin later this year and energy generation is expected to begin in 2022. 

Xcel Energy plans to invest about $100 million in solar in Pierce County. The company aims to provide carbon-free electricity to all customers by 2050.  

— For more developments in green energy, environmental issues and related policy proposals, visit WisBiz Green in the right-hand column at

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— A&A Services and Transportation, Inc. saw success during the COVID-19 pandemic but now focuses on creating generational wealth for Milwaukee’s Black community. 

A&A is a subcontractor working primarily for FedEx. The company works on three separate routes running three Sprinter vans on a package pickup and delivery route in the West Allis area and two “line haul” routes with two semi-trucks each carrying a double-trailer running from Illinois to the Milwaukee area.

Founders Pastor W. Aaron Robbins and his wife Laci Coppins Robbins said they will need to develop a recruiting base in the community and devote resources to training so workers can continue to grow in their jobs, earn more and build financial security. The duo and their business were featured in a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. release.

Creating generational wealth, Aaron Robbins said, is something he often hears about as an active member of Milwaukee’s Black community.

“The thing about that is people oftentimes need a model,” he told WEDC. “Many times in the African American community, we’re told opportunity is available. But it’s not opportunity if I don’t have the resources.”

He added that he and his wife want to offer opportunities for people who may have struggled to find employment in other industries, including people without a college degree. 

Laci Robbins said she’s particularly proud of the diversity on her team. Her line haul driver is a Black woman, a rarity in the trucking business. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey, just 6.9 percent of drivers-sales workers and truck drivers were women and only 15 percent were Black. 

Robbins said she’s hopeful more people of color are able to get into the trucking business.

— Nearly half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties are reporting a “medium” COVID-19 level, and no county is reporting an increased case trajectory.

In the past two weeks, 33 counties were experiencing the second-lowest disease activity level, up from 14 last week. Those counties have had fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 residents. 

Last week, Menominee County reported a low disease prevalence with fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people. This week, no county reports low COVID-19 activity. 

However, no county reports an increasing case trajectory. And no county reports “critically high” or “very high” COVID-19 activity.

Most of Wisconsin’s counties — 39 counties — have a “high” case burden. It means the counties have greater than 100 cases per 100,000 residents. 

<i>For more of the most relevant news on the coronavirus outbreak, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin and links to top stories, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from and

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— RSVP for the June 15 – – Wisconsin Technology Council “From dairy to tech: How smarter immigration policy can help the Midwest workforce” virtual event.

Four speakers will talk about the prospects for immigration reform under the Biden administration and within Congress, and how bipartisan changes might help solve workforce problems in some of Wisconsin’s largest economic sectors.

Participants are: Reid Ribble, a former Republican member of Congress from northeast Wisconsin and chief executive officer for the National Roofing Contractors Association; Ankit Agarwal, president and CEO of Imbed Biosciences Inc. in Madison; Jay Heeg, of Heeg Brothers Dairy in Colby and a former president of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin; and Kelly Fortier, an attorney with the Michael Best law firm. Tom Still, president of the Tech Council, will moderate.

The program is set to run via webinar from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15.



# Madison Black leaders criticize UW over athletic director process

# Regulators approve $104.5 million solar buy for Xcel Energy

# Milwaukee County sees drop in COVID-19 not seen since start of pandemic



– Select Sires & Local Cooperatives to Unite as Single Entity 


– Wisconsin School of Business Introduces Chief Information Officer Digital Leadership Program 

– GOP bills would restrict teaching of race, bias in schools


– EPA Expands Areas That Will Face Tougher Smog Regulations In Wisconsin 


– Wisconsin State Fair looking to hire employees at job fair 


– Archdiocese of Milwaukee says it won’t participate in AG abuse investigation


– Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson hasn’t announced if he’s running next year but he’s still raising campaign cash 


– Duluth Trading ups guidance based on first quarter performance 


– Forgivable COVID-19 relief loans available through Legacy Redevelopment for small businesses ‘trying to stay afloat’ 


– LaFleur: Bakhtiari ‘a little bit ahead of schedule’ 


– Marquette University launches Raj, new $1.5 million high-performance computing cluster


– Wisconsin Department of Tourism distributes half-million in JEM grants


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

 – “Frontline Workers Matter”: UnityPoint Health-Meriter employees, community leaders and elected officials to call for equality and respect

– Serenity Pet Salon & Spa: Springtime allergies are for the dogs!

– Marquette: Ecology, physical therapy faculty members receive prestigious Fulbright Scholar awards

– Road America: Offers up close racing as the MotoAmerica Series returns June 11-13