Zilber to provide BrightStar free office space

Zilber Property Group will provide rent-free space for BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation in the Milwaukee office building where the real estate developer has its headquarters.

“This contribution by the Zilber Property Group will allow us to direct an even higher percentage of donor dollars to our mission of investing in early-stage companies to fuel job creation,” said Jeff Harris, BrightStar’s co-founder and chairman.

BrightStar is moving into its new space this week, and expects to be able to renew the lease annually, said Tom Shannon, who has agreed to be the foundation’s unpaid president for three years.

BrightStar formed in July with an unusual plan for using charitable donations to make venture investments in young state companies. Harris, Shannon and six others pledged at least $500,000 each, for a total of $6 million, to seed the foundation.

Brightstar also said Tuesday it has hired its first two employees: Todd Sobotka, portfolio manager, is former venture track program director at BizStarts Milwaukee; and Fred Raasch, business manager, is a former self-employed marketing consultant.

BrightStar’s plans hinge on securing Internal Revenue Service approval for tax-exempt status so that donations can be tax-deductible. The foundation said it filed an application with the IRS earlier this month.

BrightStar has “a very good chance” of getting approval, Reed Hall, secretary and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., has said. WEDC in late July pledged $300,000 in operating funds to BrightStar, pending the IRS approval.

BrightStar has also received a $1 million pledge from Albert O. “Ab” Nicholas, founder and chairman of Milwaukee-based Nicholas Co.

Zilber executives said they asked BrightStar how they could help with the foundation’s mission, and providing the office space seemed like the “first easy step,” said Jim Borris, Zilber’s president.

Zilber’s Empire building is on the corner of Wisconsin and Plankington avenues, and houses Riverside Theater, Mo’s A Place for Steaks and other businesses.

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