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May 26, 2021
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The theme of this year’s Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference on June 3 is Building Blocks for Young Companies, but the agenda is filled with sessions of interest to companies of all sizes and stages.

Despite the conference’s online format, the day’s schedule includes plenty of time for virtual networking with other entrepreneurs and representatives from more than 30 Wisconsin companies. 


The day starts with a keynote from Wes Schroll, founder of Fetch Rewards. Schroll started the consumer retail rewards app as a UW-Madison student. The company recently reached a total valuation of $1 billion, making it what’s called a “unicorn” in startup circles.

The rest of the morning’s schedule includes several sessions aimed at entrepreneurs just getting started and working to grow their businesses. Representatives from WEDC, UW-Madison’s Small Business Development Center and Eau Claire’s CoLab will be discussing the resources available in Wisconsin to help young companies get started and thrive in challenging times. The MKE Tech Hub Coalition will be hosting a panel on how growing companies can attract, hire and retain qualified tech talent.


For more established startups, the afternoon’s schedule includes a session on driving growth through sales. The session will be moderated by Jonathan Horne of the Idea Fund of La Crosse, one of the early-stage venture capital funds associated with the Badger Fund of Funds. Horne will also be part of a morning panel on the Badger Fund of Funds portfolio—which now includes Rock River Capital Partners, Winnow Fund, Gateway Capital Partners and the Winnebago Seed Fund in addition to the Idea Fund—and the young companies they have helped jumpstart.

Later in the day, Wisconsin Technology Council president Tom Still will be moderating a panel on how other nearby states have implemented similar public/private fund-of-funds programs. For those more interested in economic growth strategies inside the state of Wisconsin, another conference panel will highlight the strategies and best practices local experts are putting in place to help their regions thrive.


The day also includes plenty of celebrating Wisconsin’s entrepreneurs, from established businesses to those just getting started.

Don Zietlow, president and CEO of La Crosse-based Kwik Trip, will be honored with the Ken Hendricks Memorial “Seize the Day” Award, which celebrates entrepreneurial leaders who have been crucial to Wisconsin’s economic growth. The family-owned convenience store chain has grown to comprise over 700 stores in four states. Unlike most convenience stores, the company is vertically integrated, producing more than 80% of the items on its shelves.

At the other end of the spectrum are the contestants participating in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest  and Wisconsin YES! Contest. Wisconsin YES! (Youth Entrepreneurs in Science) is a statewide youth business plan contest focused on science and technology innovation. The Governor’s Business Plan Contest, after which Wisconsin YES! is modeled, is a months-long contest during which applicants are mentored along the process of writing, refining and pitching their business plans. The final “Diligent Dozen” who have made it through the entire process will be pitching their ideas the day before the conference. The grand prize winner, along with category winners in advanced manufacturing, business services, life sciences and information technology, will be announced at the conference’s closing ceremony.

General admission to the conference is $109, with discounts for Wisconsin Investment Network members, Tech Council members and companies participating in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest. More schedule details and registration information can be found on the Wisconsin Tech Council website.

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