Editorial: Invest in Wisconsin Start-Ups

EDITORIAL-Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel appeared February 13, 2015:

Do you know that Wisconsin has a unique funding vehicle in The Brightstar Wisconsin Foundation that allows early stage company investment to occur via charitable giving? The foundation is fully functioning now and has a measurable track record.

A year ago we were a novel idea and an organization in its infancy. Everyone has been complimentary as to our mission and objective—to ramp up Wisconsin’s economic activity by providing seed money via investment into dozens, then hundreds, of job creating start up companies in our state. Jobs create economic vitality, start up companies create jobs. Start-ups need funding, BrightStar helps fund.

Since receiving our IRS determination letter green lighting our non-profit status, we have received $2,850,000 in additional deductible pledges to add to the $5,000,000 our 8 co-founders donated at inception, and we have already invested $2,000,000 of it into start-up companies. These 14 companies we funded this past year forecast creating 775 jobs in Wisconsin over the next 3 years. We will invest much more of our capital on hand again in 2015. Just look at some of the cutting edge technologies we have here in Wisconsin; two of which BrightStar has invested in already!

Somna Therapeutics in Germantown makes a medical device in the form of a band that fits comfortably on your neck and puts 20 millimeters of mercury pressure on your cricoid cartilage at night. It stops acid reflux in its tracks without pills or surgeries…reflux is a mammoth $54 billion annual market.

Dairyvative Technologies in Markesan processes a quart of milk into a yogurt like texture and sized container but at only 1/7th of the original volume, giving it a multi year shelf life and making it economically transportable, while reconstituting to a nearly indistinguishable flavor from regular milk. The processing makes the product drinkable for the huge global lactose intolerant market to boot!

Fetch Rewards of Madison enables your mobile phone to sweep across a supermarket aisle while popping up on screen those items that are on sale and offering coupons for complementary products—then automatically processing all discounts, coupons and credit card information from your phone as you walk out the store in an express lane.

These are just a few of the technologies the BrightStar Foundation investment committee members have seen during 2014, our first full year of operation. In a state that was ranked 45th in job creation in 2013, these are exactly the kinds of ideas that need nurturing—and they are available in some abundance. We at BrightStar are determined to keep our brightest intellectual and human capital here in state, where it belongs.

What BrightStar becomes now rests squarely on the shoulders of the wealthy and charitable folks of Wisconsin. By continuing to deploy our funds on hand, along with the new monies gathered at the current donation rate, we will no doubt continue to be a positive influence on our economy…a warm feeling to be sure for our founders and donors.

But we are not really satisfied with that. If you have ever been to the entrepreneurial hotbeds of Boston or Silicon Valley you will understand what our objectives are. UW is 3rd in research money and 6th in patent creation; over 400 applications were turned in for the last Generator incubator class. Wisconsin has all the raw materials to be an economic powerhouse EXCEPT for investment dollars. We have provided a one of a kind world-class entity and infrastructure to accommodate your donations to make that happen. Now it is up to you.

Tom Shannon is an active angel investor and donates his time as BrightStar’s President & CEO. He may be reached at tshannon@brightstarwi.org

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