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Friday, October 3, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Programs team up to put entrepreneurs on the right track


By MaryBeth Matzek
Dave Linz wasn't surprised to hear the results of a survey announced late last month that Wisconsin lags behind other states when it comes to the new jobs created by entrepreneurs. But while the 2012 Business Dynamics Statistics data shows Wisconsin ranked third lowest in the nation when it comes to the number of businesses created by entrepreneurs, the interim director of the University of Wisconsin-Extension Center for Technology Commercialization says the state is moving in the right direction and creating an atmosphere that embraces entrepreneurs.

"When you're on the ground floor like we are, you can see the needle moving and seeing entrepreneurs finding success," Linz says. "That data is just one piece of the puzzle. There's a whole ecosystem out there helping innovative people take their idea and find a way to turn it into a business opportunity. There's definitely a groundswell of support for entrepreneurs in Wisconsin."

The Business Dynamics Statistics report revealed Wisconsin entrepreneurs created 5,757 businesses with employees, which was about 5.8 percent of the state's total employer firms. The average for the nation is a bit above 7 percent. But while Wisconsin didn't fare well in the number of new businesses created, it did do well in another area: the survival rate for new businesses in the state is higher than the national average.

Lisa Johnson, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., says the state is home to a lot of innovative ideas, but the key is taking those ideas and transforming them into viable businesses.

"This is something the WEDC has been focused on and we have a number of programs in place to help entrepreneurs, but partnerships with other organizations and the University of Wisconsin have also been important," she says.

The Start-Seed-Scale (S3) initiative is one way the WEDC along with the UW System and other business leaders are looking to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses by helping to remove as many barriers as possible. Johnson says the various S3 programs includes financial and operational assistance programs designed to specifically address business startup and seed- funding challenges in Wisconsin.

"Getting funding is the hardest thing for new businesses. We have a variety of support systems in place to help entrepreneurs whether it's through matching grant programs or offering programs that make entrepreneurs take a long, hard look at their idea through business modeling to validate their idea and make sure it's a viable business option," Johnson says. "It's all about offering bottom-up support for entrepreneurs and giving them the tools they need."

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Advance program is one example of a program that the WEDC is using to help entrepreneurs. In this initiative, which is a collaboration between the WEDC and the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC), small high- tech businesses receive grants to help commercialize their ideas. Last month, seven companies received $75,000 each as part of their program; all the recipients had already received federal SBIR funding but since those dollars can only be spent on certain activities, Johnson says more help was needed.

"We were able to identify that some activities that are necessary to getting a business going such as patent work and customer validation were not covered by the federal dollars so these entrepreneurs were facing a gap," she says. "We were able to come in and create a program along with the CTC to fill that gap."

With a multitude of programs in place along with a long list of organizations in place to help start-ups, Linz is optimistic that the number of entrepreneurs – and the jobs they create – will increase in Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin has always been the lower end when it comes to business creation and I'm not sure why, but there are a lot of positive things happening right now and I'll think we'll continue to see more new businesses – and jobs – being created in the state," he says.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

To see an interactive graphic detailing the Start-Seed-Scale initiative, please visit http://inwisconsin.com/entrepreneurs-and-innovators/s3-funding-initiative


Funding in-demand jobs

Chippewa Valley Technical College will be able to train more students for high-demand health care careers thanks to a $20 million federal grant.

The grant, which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will allow the college to train 148 more students in nurse and medical office assistant programs during the next three years. All of the state's technical colleges will get some piece of the $20 million to help with training for healthcare careers, but CVTC is the lead agency and will use $3.87 million to develop new technology to improve classroom simulators. The hands-on technology allows students to view patient reactions, symptoms and even some surgical procedures using smartphones and other electronic devices while working with the lifelike dummies currently used in the classroom.

College leaders say the technology will better prepare students for the workplace by providing more realistic scenarios.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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