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Reggie Newson: Wisconsin students respond enthusiastically to Tech Ed Month events


By Reggie Newson
Ongoing challenge: Alert more youth to good jobs tech training offers, ensure skilled workforce

Maggie Fink and her classmates at Kaukauna High School represent the future generation of Wisconsin's workforce. Governor Walker and I, along with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, toured their lab recently. Our visit was among special events during Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, which Governor Walker proclaimed for the month of February. The students were eager to tell us what they learned, show us an electronic vehicle they built, and talk about their plans for the future.

The same is true of the Milwaukee Bradley Tech students I, and Superintendent Evers met during another CTE event. This was at a Froedtert Hospital construction site in Wauwatosa, and the students were enrolled in an innovative Tech Tern program. They were exploring career opportunities in architecture, engineer, construction management and the building trades. These Tech Terns were equally enthusiastic about their school-to-work path and the future.

The Kaukauna and Bradley Tech students see the rewarding careers and family-supporting jobs that can become a reality with a technical education. While CTE month is at an end, the challenge is ongoing for all of us who want our youth to succeed and want to keep Wisconsin moving forward by building a skilled workforce. By all of us, I mean teachers, parents, mentors, community leaders and employers. We need to get the message to our youth at an early age, whether by text, twitter, or better yet, a face-to-face talk: A year or two in technical school, even short-term training, can open doors to challenging and good-paying careers.

Governor Walker has been and remains a strong supporter of career and technical education. Before the start of the current school year, Governor Walker announced $1.8 million in funding for our popular Youth Apprenticeship (YA) program. The YA program provides high school juniors and seniors with school-to-work experience. More recently, he signed legislation to provide an additional $500,000 for YA, opening slots for hundreds of additional students. Another bill Governor Walker recently signed into law would encourage school districts to promote CTE programs. For every pupil that completes an approved, industry-recognized program, the district will receive $1,000.

Another shining example is Governor Walker's Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF) initiative. Currently, WFF provides $15 million in worker training grants for innovative, employer-driven training. Governor Walker now wants to add $35 million more to address the current skills gap and ensure a skilled workforce in the future. The added funding would support a host of initiatives, including school district and technical college dual enrollment programs that target high demand jobs, many of which require technical education.

CTE month provides us with a special opportunity to highlight the value of career and technical education. Even so, our youth and the opportunities in their future through CTE must remain our focus throughout the year.

-- Newson is secretary of the Department of Workforce Development.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jennifer Sereno: Expansion plans at Exact Sciences highlight value of new DWD worker training program


By Jennifer Sereno
Applications open March 1 for next round of employer-led training grants

With plans for a major clinical testing laboratory in Madison and FDA review underway on its novel colon cancer screening test, Exact Sciences (Nasdaq: EXAS) holds significant potential to accelerate the region's economy.

Kevin Conroy, company president and CEO, says the award of two Wisconsin Fast Forward training grants earlier this month will help the company achieve its next milestone. The funds for Exact Sciences and some two dozen other recent grantees are part of a major initiative by the state Department of Workforce Development under Secretary Reggie Newson to complement existing technical training programs and channel new skills into Wisconsin's workforce.

"The concept of a skills pipeline is an important one," Conroy says. "We're appreciative that state government is focused on helping companies become more competitive in the global economy."

Gov. Scott Walker signed the Wisconsin Fast Forward program into law in March 2013 following its near-unanimous approval by the Legislature. Under the program, companies match the state training funds at levels ranging from 50 cents up to one dollar for every dollar received, depending on the specific grant. The next round of applications for funding totaling $7.5 million will open March 1 with information sessions scheduled statewide to encourage participation.

In the case of Exact Sciences, the two grants totaling $325,106 will be used to train more than 200 new employees to launch the colon cancer screening facility. The expanded operation will require a variety of high-level skills and the first grant will help train lab technicians in sample preparation and shipping, operation of the robotic screening systems and use of new software to generate lab reports.

The second grant will help train another group from the pool of new hires to work in a contact center assisting physicians with ordering tests and retrieving results from a Web portal. While many of the new employees may come equipped with training from various technical college programs, the unique nature of the Exact Sciences technology, robotic specimen processing and physician interface will require training at a level not currently available in the state.

"The facility will be capable of handling 1 million patient samples per year" and must comply with Good Laboratory Practice standards, Conroy says. The training will require the involvement of clinical laboratory experts, robotics industry consultants and medical professionals.

The company is currently working to develop the training program as the FDA approval process continues. Exact Sciences currently employs about 85.

Scott Jansen, director of the Office of Skills Development for DWD and leader of the Wisconsin Fast Forward effort, says the team that developed the grant program and the bipartisan group of legislators that supported it could never have envisioned the specific needs of a company such as Exact Sciences.

And that's exactly the point. Rather than picking winners and losers in the New Economy, the agency has identified broad industry categories with high growth potential and developed a scoring system to award the total $15 million available over two years in a way that expands the state's capacity for innovation.

"The best thing about this is, we're not just doing the Fast Forward granting program, we've become a kind of clearinghouse, connecting employers with pockets of talent they may not have known about," Jansen says. "This is a complementary program to the technical training that exists in the state today," and in some cases the local technical college will be brought in to help implement a specialized training program.

Beyond moving workers with existing technical capabilities higher up on the skills ladder, Wisconsin Fast Forward also seeks to expand the opportunities available to those without jobs. In the first round of funding, awards to organizations including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin and Operation Fresh Start focus on training unemployed and underemployed individuals for jobs in welding and construction.

How will taxpayers know whether the program is ultimately successful?

"We will be able to study wage data that employers already report to the state's unemployment insurance program to evaluate the effectiveness of the participating employers' individual training programs," Jansen says. "We're building the infrastructure and letting the thought leadership occur in the marketplace, then evaluating" the performance of the program.

That's a welcome approach for companies such as Exact Sciences.

"Other states and other countries are competing very aggressively," Conroy says. "We need to stay focused on high-paying, high-skilled jobs if our region is going to grow into the future."

Wisconsin Fast Forward sets sights on additional industries for second round of funding

Following DWD's evaluation of labor market growth and inquiries for worker training, Scott Jansen of the Office of Skills Development says funding for the second round of Wisconsin Fast Forward grants will be available in the following sectors:
* Health care and related occupations, $2 million;
* Information technology occupations, $1.5 million;
* Transportation, logistics and distribution occupations, $1 million;
* Financial services occupations, $1 million;
* Manufacturing occupations, $1 million;
* Construction trades and related occupations, $500,000; and
* $500,000 available to small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees.


-- Sereno is a former business editor of the Wisconsin State Journal who has written about new economy trends for various publications. Send email to sereno.jennifer@gmail.com.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Tom Still: In small, unseen ways, Wisconsin still makes it hard on emerging companies


By Tom Still
A drug development company in the Madison area that raised $8 million in financing from angel and venture investors, some of it from outside Wisconsin, received an unhappy surprise from state government when it learned it would be taxed on the capital raised.

That's not a tax on earned revenue from sales of products – the young company is still pursuing federal regulatory approval for its drugs, which have yet to hit the market – but a tax on the capital raised from investors itself.

"The company is on a very tight budget," said John Neis, managing director of Venture Investors LLC, a lead Wisconsin investor. "They were shocked to learn they were starting out $24,000 behind budget as soon as they closed on the financing."

Wisconsin is perhaps the only state that taxes private investments in so-called "foreign corporations," which are C Corporations most often registered in the state of Delaware. Many U.S. companies incorporate in The First State: Nearly two-thirds of all Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in Delaware and three-quarters of all initial public offerings in the United States involve Delaware companies.

Companies don't do so to dodge taxes at home, as state tax laws in Wisconsin and elsewhere largely boil down to a test of where the company physically does business, hires workers and makes sales.

Rather, they do so because Delaware's incorporation process is modern and efficient. Politicians of both parties in Delaware understand the importance of keeping the state's corporate law up to date, and Delaware courts are renowned for their expertise and expedited dockets.

As a result, many startup companies in Wisconsin are – or, should be if they expect to get professional financing – C Corporations. Like similar companies in other states, many of Wisconsin's homegrown "C Corps" are incorporated in Delaware.

With angel and venture capital investment dollars scarce for many young companies, the question arises: Why is Wisconsin virtually alone in taxing capital raised by those companies?

"I know of no other state that taxes the capital raised at the time of investment like this," said Neis, an early stage investor for nearly 30 years. "It is always a shock to investors from outside the state that are investing in the state for the first time."

That's why some members of the Legislature want to repeal Wisconsin's investment tax on companies that are registered out of state, even though their roots, offices and workers are here.

"C-Corps have no issue with paying taxes on earned income, but capital from investors is difficult to come by for Wisconsin startup companies," said Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin. "Our position is that these companies are doing business in Wisconsin; their staff is in Wisconsin and the vast majority of – if not all – of their dollars raised from investors are spent in Wisconsin."

If enacted, this idea would help Wisconsin's early stage economy produce more companies and jobs. Here are other examples of Wisconsin policy initiatives that have received national attention:

* In its annual report on trends in tech-based development, the State Science and Technology Institute cited Wisconsin and New York as two recent examples of creative approaches to capital development. This was due to the Legislature's overwhelmingly support for a "fund-of-funds" that will begin with a $25 million state investment and attract matching private dollars.

* That same report by SSTI cited Wisconsin's decision to amend state securities laws to permit equity crowdfunding. In other states where similar laws are already in effect, there are signs of increased economic activity.

* It also highlighted the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.'s $300,000 investment in the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, which is beginning to invest in Wisconsin companies. In mid-February, WEDC and the UW System announced creation of a $2 million fund to help transfer technology from other system campuses.

* The latest Halo Report by the Angel Capital Association cited a Madison angel network, Wisconsin Investment Partners, as one of the nation's most active in the third quarter of 2013. Milwaukee's Golden Angels Network was called out in another Halo report as one of the top groups in the nation for dollars invested per deal.

* In a recent report on Colorado's efforts to create a statewide angel network, Xconomy cited the experience of the Wisconsin Angel Network and the overall success of Wisconsin's investor tax credits program.

If Wisconsin wants to build a truly competitive capital market, eliminating archaic barriers to investment would help. Ending Wisconsin's tax on investments in so-called "foreign corporations" would signal to investors everywhere that Wisconsin understands what it takes to build young companies.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jennifer Sereno: Bitcoin sparks fear and loathing, spurs entrepreneurial activity


By Jennifer Sereno
It's been scorned by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase; it's been the target of U.S. law enforcement officials and yes, it's one more thing that's been banned in Russia. Is it any wonder people are talking about Bitcoin?

In Madison and other tech-savvy communities, they're innovating with it, too.

On a recent Saturday, some 30 members of Madison's tech community gathered at Madworks Coworking in University Research Park for a "hackathon" or code writing session to create new applications related to the cryptocurrency. Teams competed for bitcoin-denominated prizes in a daylong session fueled by coffee, bagels, Coke and pizza.

"It's exciting to see this many people here," said Brian Samson, president of Ten Forward Consulting and an organizer of the Madworks Cryptocurrency Hackathon. "It speaks to the interest in the underlying technology, which is amazing. People criticize Bitcoin for a variety of things, but it is still in its infancy and the capabilities are still being developed. It's like when the Internet started. People could have said, yeah, but you can't watch TV. Well, now you can."

So, what exactly is a bitcoin? Depending on how you define a "store of value," the volatile virtual currency may or may not be money, although some traders have been charged with money laundering.

The peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency appeared as open-source software in 2009 thanks to an unknown developer or group of developers working under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. It's called a cryptocurrency because it uses complex, encrypted computer code to establish an online environment that enables the creation and transfer of units with perceived value.

"It really is geek money right now," says Monty Schmidt, a hackathon organizer and founder of Madison computer consulting company Wuntusk. "You almost have to have a degree in computer science to do anything with it."

Participating miners using candy bar-sized devices are paid at regular intervals in bitcoins for solving mathematical problems. These help in securing the blockchain, Bitcoin's public online ledger.

Meanwhile, numerous domestic and international bitcoin exchanges have sprung up to facilitate trading, their action chronicled by financial journalists with outlets ranging from Forbes to blogs.

At the moment, bitcoin prices vary wildly among the exchanges, ranging from less than $300 to more than $600 per unit. While some might consider the gap an opportunity for arbitrage, Samson and Schmidt said it's more a reflection of the difficulty investors have in actually completing a transaction or converting the virtual funds to dollars due to software glitches at some individual exchanges.

In one sign that more consumer-friendly options for conducting transactions with bitcoin may be on the way, Robocoin of Las Vegas plans to install its first U.S. bitcoin ATMS in Austin, Texas and Seattle, Wash., in the weeks to come.

Even at the high end, some might say current prices are a relative bargain compared to the high of more than $1,200 per coin reached last year. Based on the mathematical rules governing the ecosystem, the number of bitcoins will cap at 21 million, a total that likely will be mined by the year 2140.

"Given the volatility, the uncertainty surrounding various exchanges and the difficulty of completing transactions, you might wonder why it's worth bothering with," said Schmidt, a serial entrepreneur who also launched Sonic Foundry in 1991. "But even if Bitcoin fails, it will lead us somewhere. The underlying technologies that make it run are amazing."

It's that capability that has open-source software developers — and increasingly, intellectual property lawyers – buzzing. The blockchain, which also serves as a ledger for transactions, provides unprecedented capabilities for:
* three-party transactions requiring two of the three parties to verify a deal before it closes, yet eliminating the need for a bank's involvement.
* time-stamping work for intellectual property protection within a system that provides transparent, independent authentication.
* a new path for lowering financial fees and escrowing value for future transactions.

At the Madworks Coworking hackathon, it was those types of applications that won the day. First place was awarded to Kenny Younger and Matt Snyder for a WordPress plug-in that uses Bitcoin to moderate comments. The plugin allows users to post a comment immediately without waiting on moderation by submitting a micro payment via Bitcoin.

The working demo can be found at http://sheerfocus.com/pay-post-hackathon-demo/ and the source code at http://github.com/kyounger/wordpress-bitpost.

Samson and Schmidt would be the first to agree that Bitcoin won't solve the problems of the world financial system. But, with the potential for open-source innovation, participants in the system are likely to solve at least a few things troubling the New Economy.

"There are some very good reasons for not letting a bunch of geeks get in and play around with the international monetary system" the way people are now able to freely innovate with Bitcoin, Schmidt says. On the other hand, "when 40 million credit cards are stolen, we have a problem. There hasn't been enough innovation in the banking system in the past 30 years."

-- Sereno is a former business editor of the Wisconsin State Journal who has written about new economy trends for various publications. Send email to sereno.jennifer@gmail.com.

Software expert and serial entrepreneur Monty Schmidt shows off a bitcoin mobile wallet at the recent Madworks Cryptocurrency Hackathon in Madison. The wallets feature a QR code that allows users to pay for purchases using bitcoins stored in their accounts.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tom Still: Getting behind the Obamacare sign-up numbers; the (re)rise of the creative class


By Tom Still
Just when you thought you had the politics of the pro- and anti-Obamacare debate figured out, along come some pesky numbers to upset your thinking.

With the end of the open enrollment period set for late March, there are huge state-to-state differences in terms of people signing up for coverage through the federal Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," as its commonly called.

Wisconsin is among six Republican-led "red" states where official opposition to Obamacare has been stiff, but where sign-up rates are on target or even ahead of the game. Others are Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and North Carolina.

Conversely, some Democratic "blue" states or jurisdictions are lagging: Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

The answer may rest less in politics than in demographics. In Wisconsin, according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 56,436 people had enrolled through Feb. 1. That was ahead of the government's sign-up goal of 48,980 for the state by that date. Of that total, only 20 percent are what health experts call "the invincibles" – young people 18 to 34 years old who often think they don't need health insurance. That compares to 25 percent in the young category nationally so far.

On the other end of the scale, 43 percent of Wisconsin's enrollees are between the ages of 55 to 64, compared to 31 percent nationally.

That means Wisconsin is among the states with the oldest profiles for Obamacare sign-ups so far, along with West Virginia and Maine. The Congressional Budget Office set a goal of 79,000 enrollees in Wisconsin by March 31; the national goal is about 7 million.

Connecticut stands at twice its Feb. 1 goal while neighboring Massachusetts, which pioneered the approach taken by Obama under then-Gov. Mitt Romney, stands at about 5 percent of its target. Go figure.

So far, the federal government has not delayed the requirement than uninsured individuals sign up. That means uncovered individuals who do not sign up by March 31 will face federal tax penalties that will grow over time. For uncovered people who don't sign up for coverage by March 31, the penalty is $95 per adult or 1 percent of annual income, whichever is higher. That penalty grows in succeeding years – and the sign-up periods will be more sharply defined.

Getting 'creative' with entrepreneurship

The last time you heard the phrase "creative economy" may have been a decade or so ago when author and researcher Richard Florida wrote "The Rise of the Creative Class," and there was an economic development scramble over whose city could be perceived as more hip than the next metro.

Of course, if you have to work at being hip, you probably aren't. But the concept of creativity, arts and the entrepreneurship has endured, so much so that a bill being debated in the Wisconsin Legislature could establish a "Creative Economy Development Initiative."

Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin, testified Feb. 12 on the size of the economic opportunity – which extends to entrepreneurship in areas that don't necessarily involve high-tech startups, but are nonetheless innovative.

"Strengthening Wisconsin's creative industries is a critical strategy for the state and all of its communities to compete in the global economy, educate our children, engage residents, and to develop, attract and retain entrepreneurs and a high skilled work force through healthy, vibrant communities where people want to live, work, learn and play," Katz told a Senate committee.

Dun & Bradstreet estimates Wisconsin's creative sector includes about 12,000 businesses and employs nearly 50,000 people in full-time jobs – mostly with small, entrepreneurial companies. Americans for the Arts and the Wisconsin Arts Board report that Wisconsin's nonprofit arts and cultural sector is a $535-million industry, resulting in $65 million in local and state tax revenues, 22,872 full-time equivalent jobs and $479 million in resident income.

If approved, the "Creative Economy" initiative would be run through the Wisconsin Arts Board. A grant program requiring a $2 to $1 match would target for-profit and non-profit arts and community businesses, economic development groups and local governments.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Tom Still: A little about a lot: Patent lawsuits, jet fuel from plants, angel investing and more


By Tom Still
A little about a lot of things:

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation isn't the only organization accusing Apple Inc. of infringing on a high-tech patent. A few days after WARF filed suit against the technology giant, a Texas-based company did the same based on a different complaint.

WARF, the patenting and licensing arm for the UW-Madison, filed suit Feb. 3 in U.S. District Court in Wisconsin's Western District, alleging Apple infringed on discoveries by four professors. At issue is whether Apple's A7 processor – used in the iPhone 5S, the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display – incorporates technology developed by Gurindar Sohi and three others in 1998.

Hilltop Technology LLC filed suit against Apple a few days later, accusing the company of infringing on Hilltop's work in developing a "Capacitive Type Touch Panel" used in touchscreen devices and modules.

With a reported $140 billion in cash on hand, Apple is a big litigation target. Then again, Apple can outlast and outspend most challenges to its intellectual property, whether it feels the allegations are fishing expeditions or not. An exception to that legal war of attrition could be WARF, which has $2.4 billion in assets and has proven in past infringement cases it's up to the fight.

Both lawsuits are reminders of why patent fights should remain a province of the federal courts, not state-based laws and litigation – a recent and somewhat troubling trend, especially for entrepreneurs who worry about losing their intellectual property to the big guys.

Federal courts have the expertise and experience to handle complicated patent suits; state courts do not. Such suits are about interstate commerce, not intrastate disputes. The Patent Act of 1790 deliberately put the federal government, not the states, at the center of intellectual property management. That precedent should stand.

* A San Diego company called SGB is exciting the biofuels world through its success in modifying a drought-resistant species of plants – jatropha – to produce high-quality seed oil that can be turned into low-carbon jet or diesel fuel.

The buzz may well be justified, given the plant's natural hardiness and genetic breakthroughs that promise the production of commercial qualities of oil. However, another high-flying firm much closer to home is also on the flight path for plant-based jet fuels.

Madison-based Virent Energy is using the carbohydrate portion of plants, such as corn stover, to produce test quantities of two jet fuels. Both Virent products are considered identical to petroleum-based fuels because of their freezing points, boiling points and thermal stability. That means they can be safely "dropped in" to the existing refinery infrastructure. Oil from jatropha plants must be further refined before it can be used as fuel.

Which process is better? Investment dollars and market acceptance will tell, perhaps more so than technology. However, the prospect of biofuels competing with conventional fossil fuels may mean there's room for both in the aviation industry.

Just following up…

* Former Gov. Tommy Thompson's transformation from politician to businessman was the subject of a December 2013 column. Through Thompson Holdings, he has invested in or is advising about 30 companies, mostly in health care technology but largely outside Wisconsin. Thompson will talk about his plans to get more involved in Wisconsin companies at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Wauwatosa. Learn more or sign up to attend at http://www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com.

* Another December 2013 column focused on Boeing's search for a place to build the 777x jetliner, and how Wisconsin's siting bid in Milwaukee drew upon the state's deep but little-known aerospace expertise. As many observers predicted, unionized Boeing workers grudgingly accepted the company's contract offer and the 777x plant will stay in the Seattle area. Wisconsin officials expected that might happen, too, so the bid didn't contain hard-and-fast numbers about tax incentives and other financial lures. That's just as well. There's no advantage in tipping the state's hand to the next suitor.

* Reports on Wisconsin's venture capital rankings vary depending on how the numbers are reported, but two recent reports speak to the continuing strength of the state's angel investors. Angels often invest in startups as individuals or through networks, long before venture capitalists enter the picture. The latest Halo Report by the Angel Capital Association identified Wisconsin Investment Partners in Madison as one of the nation's most active angel groups for the third quarter of 2013. Another report by Xconomy cited Wisconsin's Act 255 investor tax credits program as one of the nation's best. Since 2005, about $60 million in tax credits have generated nearly $250 million in private investments in 160 eligible Wisconsin companies.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Tom Still: Putting emerging companies, major firms together is goal of April 7 Tech Summit


By Tom Still
Large companies that work on a national and even international scale often travel in different business orbits than emerging firms, even if those companies are operating in the same general technology or commercial universe.

A young company that is developing a new way to help existing devices better communicate with one another in a supply chain, for example, may not know that a much larger company is looking for exactly that kind of solution to improve its business efficiency and flow.

Helping those "orbits" come together in ways that foster connections between the large and small planets in Wisconsin's business solar system is the goal of the Wisconsin Tech Summit, an event set for April 7 at the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha.

Produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and partners that include the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Tech Summit will provide an organized way for young companies and corporate giants to meet and explore likely business relationships around technology needs and innovation.

Those relationships might include research and development partnerships, direct investments, strategic partnerships as vendors or sales outlets, even merger and acquisition. With major companies on a never-ending hunt for ideas and the revenue those innovations produce, young companies are often a likely source.

Gone are the days when larger companies only worried about what other large companies were doing. Today, they're also keeping an eye on young companies they may creatively disrupt their business or industry with a new product or service.

The Tech Summit will put together some of those larger companies with emerging firms in a "speed-dating" setting that will allow a series of brief meetings in which both sides learn whether there's enough chemistry to keep talking.

Participating major companies thus far are Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare, American Family Insurance, HP Enterprise Services, Aurora Healthcare, AT&T, IBM, Faith Technologies and TASC (Total Administrative Services Corp). Others are being invited.

The event co-chairs are Sujeet Chand, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Rockwell Automation, and Munesh Makhija, vice president for global research at GE Healthcare.

Major companies will be able to hear from emerging firms with innovative products or services tied to areas such as "big data," connected devices and data analytics in sectors ranging from health care to information systems, and from power electronics to telecommunications. Emerging companies will be able to apply to participate beginning next week through http://www.wistechsummit.com. A selection process involving major companies and the Tech Council will follow. Selected companies may meet with more than one company, depending on interest.

A broader goal of the conference is to fuel two important sectors of the Wisconsin economy – its major firms, which are often world leaders, and its early stage sector, which is a source of innovation but often disconnected from the right markets and potential users of those ideas.

While larger, more general, events can produce such business-to-business interactions, and often do, a targeted approach allows major companies and young companies alike to be efficient and not waste time.

"In some parts of the country, there are well-established ways for larger companies and emerging firms to connect," said Toni Sikes, chief executive officer of CODAworx and chair of the Tech Council. "This is a way to enhance that kind of connectivity in Wisconsin and our region. There are benefits to entrepreneurs and major companies alike."

"Speed dating" meetings on April 7 will run about 15 minutes each. Other features of the day-long event will include:

* "Office Hours" meetings and presentations, which will be available to all participants during those times in which they are not scheduled for individual meetings.

* Addresses by major speakers who will bring perspectives that will be helpful for major companies as well as emerging firms.

* An opening panel discussion that will help set the stage by affording major companies an opportunity to talk generally about their goals, needs and emerging markets.

The success of the event may well be judged on how many of the "speed dates" turn into lasting relationships, either through corporate investments or other strategic partnerships. It may not be love at first sight in every, or any, case, but all good relationships need a start.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

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