Wisconsin looks to Michigan for IT startup inspiration

Earlier this week, this blog previewed the 30th annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium taking place on Wednesday and Thursday at the Monona Terrace in Madison. The event is bringing together dozens of startups in tech and other sectors, giving them the opportunity to network and meet with angel investors and venture capitalists.

Among the speakers on the first day was Paula Sorrell, vice president for entrepreneurship, innovation and venture capital at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Sorrell highlighted the way public investment has boosted her state's IT industry, which has exploded from fewer than 80 tech startups in 2002 to nearly 3,000 today.

The turning point was the passage by the Michigan Legislature of the 21st Century Jobs Fund Bill, which was a bi-partisan effort. Beginning in 2006, the state has invested $319 million in three large funds, plus an additional $25 million per year in the Michigan Strategic Fund, which awards grants to tech incubators and university research. On the private side, the number of venture capital firms has grown from four to 35 in 12 years, encouraged by the public funding.

"It has helped, in the long run, to stabilize and diversify the economy," said Sorrell to the Wisconsin State Journal. "We've seen a really nice path in terms of companies created and growing."

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Legislature approved the creation of the Badger Fund of Funds, hoping for similar results. Initial projections call for investment in up to 100 companies over the next decade.

IT consulting providers can help Wisconsin's tech companies thrive and take advantage of the new opportunities that will soon be coming their way.