Willie Sutton once famously quipped that the reason he robbed banks was “because that’s where the money is.” Wisconsin and other flyover country entrepreneurs can, I think, learn something from Willie’s thinking. To wit, when looking for risk capital, at least think about going where the money is. Which is to say the west and east coast venture centers.
Count me as one of those folks who think that unless/until at least a few venture center investors start regularly plying their trade in Wisconsin, the State will have a hard time building a sustainable high impact entrepreneurship and investing sector. Getting there, however, will take a long, long time if our entrepreneurs and regional investors passively wait to be discovered by the folks on the coasts. Rather, our entrepreneurs need to be aggressively reaching out to the major venture centers. There’s a lot of noise in the Silicon Valley venture capital business: if you don’t go there and make some of your own, no one is likely to hear you from 2,000 miles away.
Based on some recent “real world” case studies, it is increasingly apparent that while our State’s supply of “prime-time ready” deals is still small, such deals do in fact exist. Several Wisconsin entrepreneurs have, in recent months, found that quite a few of the established venture investors in places like Silicon Valley are more than willing to listen attentively to their stories. Even when these funds have not put term sheets on the table (and some have), they have shared knowledge and experience with our entrepreneurs – and generated excitement among some of our regional investors that accelerated closings and enhanced valuations for some of our homegrown entrepreneurs. And established relationships that could be very profitable at the next round.
Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial community may, on the whole, be younger and less experienced in the ways of the venture capital game than their coastal counterparts, but there are an increasing number of exceptions to the rule. Those folks need to start looking beyond Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest for funding – and doing something about it, in terms of taking their stories to the major venture centers. Because that’s where the money is.