WED AM News: Federal funding, collaboration and specialization needed to develop tech hub; Northwestern Mutual Black Founder Accelerator announces latest cohort

— For areas of Wisconsin to compete with U.S. innovation powerhouses like Boston and Seattle, experts say a combination of federal support, industry collaboration and specialization is needed. 

“Left to its own devices, our economy is essentially producing huge concentrations of innovative success in a short list of places — it’s unfortunately shorter than we think,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and a booster of regional tech hubs. He spoke yesterday during a event in Washington, D.C. hosted in partnership with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. 

According to his team’s research, five areas of the country have accounted for 91 percent of “innovation sector” growth between 2007 and 2020. That includes New York, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, D.C., he said. 

“This is a coastal winner-take-most economy that we’re in,” Muro said. 

One attempt to reverse that imbalance to some extent, the Endless Frontier Act, was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Green Bay-area Republican. While the future of that legislative effort is uncertain, panelists discussed ways the state could prepare for potential federal support to establish a tech hub or hubs in Wisconsin. 

“I think it’s going to have to be specialized to the region, and I suspect in our region biomedical will be one of those,” said Steve Ackerman, a climate scientist and vice chancellor for research and graduate education at UW-Madison. “I think we’re optimistic that something is going to come out of the tech hubs … We don’t know what it’s going to look like, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to come. And if we don’t get prepared, we’re not going to be ready.” 

Ackerman emphasized the importance of working with Wisconsin businesses for developing a tech hub in the state, saying “it will be really hard to compete” without established partnerships. Brooke Mayer, an associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Marquette University, echoed his sentiment. 

“We have to think about what we do well, and I think the examples that you’ve given of biotech in Madison, of a water hub in Milwaukee, are really good examples of how we look at the industries we are surrounded with and really build partnerships,” she said. 

Muro said Madison has a “superb base” of research and technology innovation that makes it ripe for federal investment, adding that the right level of funding could place it on a “tremendous trajectory.” 

Ackerman highlighted how federal research funding for the “space race” in the 1960s led to the creation of the field of satellite meteorology, which was pioneered by at UW-Madison. That work formed the basis of the Space Science and Engineering Center, which brings in up to $25 million per year in research grants. 

“That one little infusion that occurred back in the early ‘60s led to an established research center that is really impacting the field of weather forecasting which affects us all,” he said. 

Mayer said supporting inclusion in the STEM fields of women and people of color will help the state build research capacity in these areas and become better-positioned for tech innovation and growth. 

“How do we really build that capacity, and particularly in Wisconsin I think that we’re well-suited to do that as we’ve started to really put a focus on that,” she said. 

She also highlighted her work on phosphorus sustainability that’s being funded through a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center. Through the Science and Technologies for Phosphorus Sustainability — or STEPS — initiative, Mayer has received a $627,000 subaward and is leading several interdisciplinary research projects. The overall $25 million effort is funding research at eight other institutions around the country. 

“It’s an example of really bringing people together in a way that couldn’t have been done without that initial federal support, and hopefully we can keep that going and think about really a more sustainable future,” she said. 

— The second cohort of startups joining the Northwestern Mutual Black Founder Accelerator are developing technologies for managing professional relationships, transferring funds securely, automating phone interviews and more. 

Each of these participating companies will get a $100,000 investment and will work with representatives of gener8tor and Northwestern Mutual over the course of the 12-week program. 

“The first group of founders to go through the accelerator continues to raise funds and drive their businesses forward, and we’re proud to continue our partnership with gener8tor to give more Black founders the opportunity to set their companies up for success,” said Craig Schedler, managing director of Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures. 

The first cohort of the accelerator program graduated in June 2021, including a business called HUED that aims to address health disparities around the country. That startup recently landed $1.6 million from investors including a venture capital fund founded by Serena Williams, Serena Ventures. 

See more on the companies selected for the accelerator program in a release: 

— WEC Energy Group, the parent company of We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service, has announced plans to eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2035. 

In a third-quarter earnings call, Executive Chairman Gale Klappa said the company will “be in a position to eliminate coal as an energy source by the year 2035.” Still, he said the coal-fired units at the company’s Oak Creek site will “remain a key part of our fleet for many, many years.” 

He said WEC Energy Group is testing coal firing on natural gas to pursue “fuel flexibility” at the site. 

“So subject to the receipt of an environmental permit, we plan to make operating refinements over the next two years that will allow a fuel blend of up to 30 percent on natural gas,” he said. “And then over time, we will be able to transition completely away from coal by making incremental investments in plant equipment.” 

In response to the announcement, Sierra Club Wisconsin Director Elizabeth Ward said in a statement that “upstream emissions” from natural gas are as environmentally problematic as the impact from coal. 

“Swapping one for the other is short sighted,” she said. “The sun shines and wind blows right here in Wisconsin, and new investment in renewable energy will not only keep costs down and protect our climate but create thousands of jobs for Wisconsinites.” 

See more from the company’s earnings call: 

— U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman has introduced legislation to reduce the amount of fentanyl involved in drug offenses that would trigger a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. 

In a release announcing his bill, Grothman noted the current threshold for crimes involving fentanyl is 400 or more grams, about 200,000 lethal doses. But for heroin, the threshold is a kilogram or more, which is roughly 10,000 lethal doses.

Grothman’s bill would set a threshold of 20 grams of fentanyl and 5 grams of fentanyl analogs for a minimum 10-year sentence. It would also reduce the threshold for a 5-year minimum sentence from 40 grams fentanyl and 10 grams fentanyl analogs to 2 grams and .5 grams, respectively. 

Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, said the country recently exceeded 90,000 deaths from illegal drugs, driven largely by fentanyl.   

“Fentanyl is tearing families apart in what has become the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” Grothman said. “My bill will bring a sorely-needed increase to the penalty of trafficking deadly fentanyl.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include U.S. Reps. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Ronny Jackson, R-Texas.

See the release: 


# Wisconsin companies and farmer groups applaud the end of trade dispute between US, EU

# COVID-19 vaccine to be ready for children later this week

# First look at Octane Coffee, the Milwaukee area’s robot-powered coffee drive-thru



– DATCP awarded $500,000 grant to help with farm stress management

– Application period for farm support program 2.0 to open Nov. 8


– Wisconsin kids ages 5-11 could get vaccine doses as early as this week. Here’s what you need to know.

– Dr. Raymond says Covid-19 burden means it’s still too soon to reopen offices

– Medical rehabilitation hospital planned in Kenosha


– Judge issues injunction halting work on parts of $500M Cardinal-Hickory power line 


– Wisconsin AG to push for gun control, $115 million in grants


– T-shirt printer Brew City Brand, Signicast moving operations to Menomonee Valley

– Irgens eyes more development projects in Milwaukee County Research Park

– Nonprofit group launches $18 million campaign for Journey21 development in Oconomowoc


– State legislator proposes transferring Lambeau Field’s ownership to city of Green Bay


– Fiserv stock drops after CEO mentions loss of big processing client

– Frontdesk eyes longer-term property management market with new software brand


– Alliant Energy announces plans for largest solar farm in Iowa

– WEC Energy Group plans to eliminate coal as energy source by 2035


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

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative: Travis Senn joins communications team

Spectrum: Announces $40,000 in Spectrum Digital Education grants for Milwaukee nonprofits