At a time when people are reading less news every day, it's worth noting two recent stories that ran in newspapers the same day across Wisconsin. Both exemplify the opportunity and challenges with startup investing that HealthX Ventures and others are trying to address in our home state.
The first, an editorial by the Wisconsin State Journal, entitled “Wisconsin must attract more workers” is a common refrain in a number of states across the U.S., especially in the Midwest. The “brain-drain” problem has been well-trodden ground in Wisconsin over the years. In a unique twist for the Badger State though, new data shows very few people are leaving once they settle here, thanks to a number of lifestyle elements that are hard – if not impossible – to find elsewhere (Pop quiz: Do you know any other state that has more than 15,000 documented lakes?). This people-stickiness, as we’ll call it, is not the case in some of our neighboring states, Illinois being one glaring example. In Wisconsin, the challenging trends come from the fact that the state isn’t drawing many new young people.
To wit, from the article: “But the report comes with a big warning — one that policy leaders can’t ignore…Wisconsin suffers a small net loss when migration in both directions is tallied. Our population is still increasing because people are living longer. Births outnumber deaths, and foreign immigration helps.”
The paper’s editorial board goes on to suggest several areas of focus to change this trend, including convincing more UW System graduates to stay. Often that’s by being able to offer smart, energetic employees high-paying, rewarding jobs at engaging companies solving hard problems. Epic, the market-leading electronic medical record vendor with nearly 10,000 employees located 10 miles outside of Madison, is the ultimate example.
But that also leads us to the second story, from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “UW-Madison ranks high for entrepreneurs,” which reports on the state’s flagship university’s ranking of 14th nationally in the count of venture-capital-backed entrepreneurs. It’s undeniable the university system is producing intelligent, productive and professionally capable students for businesses, whether new or old. But notably, of the five top venture-backed founders (companies) mentioned in the story, only two are based in Wisconsin. That is a tangible result to the state of the exodus.
It’s something we think about at HealthX Ventures when we’re looking at companies: Is there enough talent where the company is located to support high growth? Are there enough capital resources (financial, human and otherwise) to support this company as it grows, knowing those needs change as a company grows from 5 to 10 to 100 employees? Does the company have enough connectivity with others – vendors, service providers, advisors, other entrepreneurs – who can help them?
In Wisconsin, there are a number of efforts working to bridge some of those gaps. And we need more. All are welcome and paired with the one-of-a-kind advantages of living in this great place, we hope it will encourage more people to consider staying here or as a place to start a company. Hopefully, it’ll lead to a new set of headlines.
P.S., the answer to the quiz question leads to a debate around the meaning of what constitutes a “lake,” but Alaska claims to have 3,000,000 lakes. By the way, coastal Maryland reports it has zero natural lakes.
Dan Blake is a partner at HealthX Ventures. Blake was born and raised in Madison, but left after college to live in Chicago, Denver and San Francisco. He returned to Madison to work for Epic.