Wisconsin has achieved its own version of the Triple Crown and finds itself in the top spot for professional athletic talent. One could call it the golden age for local sports fans as we celebrate Giannis Antetokounmpo – current NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), Christian Yelich – reigning MLB MVP, and Aaron Rodgers – two-time NFL MVP. These three top athletes grace our presence and amaze us week in and week out with their spectacular physical feats.
Recently during the NBA playoffs, we saw football and baseball stars unite in support of the Milwaukee Bucks. Not surprisingly, in Wisconsin tradition, the support also involved locally crafted beer and provided fans with a light-hearted chapter to the Bucks amazing season. Seeing these heroes out of uniform and on the Jumbo-Tron was our version of the local Avengers banding together to show their unwavering support for the community and the team. One can only hope that Wisconsin’s three stars maintain their herculean feats and repeat as MVPs in the years ahead.
Off the field, these MVPs see the need to plan ahead and diversify their business interests. In early June 2019, Rodgers and his business partners at Roth Capital Partners announced a $50M venture capital fund to back consumer startups. Beyond the short-lived sports-themed restaurant concepts, these types of investments broaden their business interests and prepare them for life after sports.
When sports heroes invest millions, these headlines make for splashy leads and serve as great “click-bait” to spur your favorite social media metric. But how much direct impact within our community will they actually create? Despite Rodgers’ name and dollars being linked to the venture fund, the capital will likely be deployed in California and nationally. This is true as well for other investment startup projects announced recently in Wisconsin. Despite being rich with innovative academic institutions and a deep bench engineering talent, Wisconsin has ranked at or near dead last for startup investment in many independent studies.
But fear not, conditions are shifting within the local innovation locker rooms and game plans are being set into motion to create entrepreneurial MVPs. With many local corporate firms now pledging support for startups, hosting technology-focused educational seminars, and reverse-pitch type ideation events, one can start to envision how talent pools for the next generation could easily emerge.
Just look at some of the recent investments:
Milwaukee must focus on developing and retaining technology skill sets and talent. i.c. Stars Milwaukee is one such business-community program that is changing lives. The program, fully funded by the business community of Milwaukee and free to participants, is a 24-month technology internship. The first four months of the program consist of technology skill development and training – coding, databases, tech support and cybersecurity. The remaining twenty months provide participants with a technology internship within one of many of Milwaukee’s great companies.
The ultimate goal with i.c. Stars Milwaukee is for participants to find full-time employment. So far, it is working and has had a profound impact. The first 35 graduates have achieved 80% full-time employment and benefits. Several of these graduates are working on startup businesses as well and have made contacts through the program with community leaders, business executives, investors, and mentors.
Another group trying to bridge the gap and bring local investment to Milwaukee and Wisconsin is Bold Coast Capital. I serve as an Investment Committee member for this firm and look forward to the deployment of much needed early-stage capital to Wisconsin’s best and brightest entrepreneurial minds.
A positive outlook, a supportive community, and a pragmatic approach to technology education, training and development are the x-factors needed for Milwaukee & Wisconsin to achieve innovation MVP status. Combining those ingredients with abundant startup investment is the real key to long-term growth and introducing the community to the next generation of MVP talent!
William Caraher is the CIO & Director of Operations at von Briesen & Roper law firm. He is also a Bold Coast Capital Investment Committee Member, the Chairman of the Advisory Board of i.c. Stars Milwaukee, an Adjunct Professor at Marquette University and a member of the Marquette Blockchain Lab Advisory Committee.
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