BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Celebrates 10 Years

BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Celebrates 10 Years


 This past month, BrightStar Wisconsin marked its 10-year anniversary of its charitable mission to create quality jobs in the state by investing in rapidly scalable early-stage ventures.  The Foundation has been involved in getting some of the most successful Wisconsin startups going over the past decade.

“Looking back, in so many ways this has exceeded what I could have imagined,” said Tom Shannon, BrightStar’s Founder and current Executive Board Chair. “There have been so many twists and turns and first of its kind problems along the way, but it has been a fun ride.  In the end, it was about getting capital into as many quality, job creating Wisconsin tech companies as possible to let them do what they do best—innovate and grow.”

Most of the first year in 2013 was focused on lining up initial capital support from the Foundation’s founders, building out the structures of the organization, and most importantly, advancing a very creative and unique non-profit model with the IRS to receive its 501(c)(3) status.   “This is something that hadn’t been done before and frankly I was a bit skeptical when Tom Shannon laid out his vision,” said Anthony Handzlik of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, BrightStar’s corporate attorney.  “Helping create an organization so novel was challenging, especially with initial push back from the IRS, but once we figured it out, we knew we had an incredible asset for Wisconsin.  We are very proud to be associated with the organization.”

With the approval of its charitable status and commitments from its founding donors, BrightStar invested in 14 companies that following year, ventures that included Janesville based Shine Technologies and Madison based Fetch, Wisconsin’s first two unicorns, which are startups now valued more than $1B.  “Our mission is to deploy capital as efficiently as possible into Wisconsin tech startups for the good of Wisconsin,” Shannon added.  “And our evergreen model means that when those opportunities provide returns, that capital gets re-deployed into more and more state businesses.”

Getting capital into Wisconsin entrepreneurs and their rapidly scalable businesses is what BrightStar has done, investing over $10 Million into more than 70 companies representing 15 different counties from around the state.  These companies have created over 1,500 jobs.  “I have seen firsthand how BrightStar fills a unique gap for the state in helping get deals done, both by providing new capital and by leveraging their relationships to increase the chances of success.  Their capital and introductions have been invaluable as well as their continued counsel,” said Lindsey Roddy, the CEO of Milwaukee based Roddy Medical.  A sentiment shared by the President of another portfolio company, Phil Fonfara of Blue Line Battery in Beloit, “BrightStar played an essential role in helping us complete our fundraising round with its capital and through the introductions they made to other investors.  It has been people associated with BrightStar since our investment that have been most active in opening doors to strategic partners, customers, and other investors.”

“It is amazing to see the positive changes that have taken place over the past 10 years in the Wisconsin early-stage ecosystem, and we are proud to have been a key player in advancing so many of them,” commented Jeff Harris, BrightStar’s co-founder.  “We are betting on Wisconsin, its people, its ideas, and its work ethic.  These investments are paying off as we have already invested substantially more than has ever been donated.  Each charitable gift grows over time to further support more and more Wisconsin businesses.  With the model proven and successes shown in our portfolio companies, it’s exciting now to have prospective donors contact us expressing interest in supporting our unique venture philanthropy model, and with their help and the returns from our investment, to drive the Foundation to an ever-growing fund to support our best and brightest talent and innovations.”

Please click here to see the recent BizTimes article celebrating our 10-year anniversary and accomplishments!