Read about the Wisconsin Investment Fund – a public-private venture capital initiative.

The Wisconsin Idea continues to guide our state’s future

May 30, 2024
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By Missy Hughes
WEDC Secretary and CEO

Two major developments this spring demonstrate that the Wisconsin Idea—the belief that business, educational, and state leaders should work together to find new ways to improve people’s lives—is as relevant as ever in building an economy where every Wisconsinite has the opportunity to thrive.

In early May, President Biden and Microsoft CEO Brad Smith announced the company’s decision to triple its planned investment in the company’s Mount Pleasant data center to a total of $3.3 billion. The project is expected to employ more than 2,000 construction workers while it is being built and 2,000 full-time data center workers when the facility is up and running.

That was the big news, and it’s more proof that Wisconsin’s growing momentum is drawing the attention of blue-chip, global businesses.

But another piece of Microsoft’s commitment to Wisconsin may prove even more important to ensuring Wisconsin’s long-term economic success: The company is establishing a Co-Innovation Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Aided in part by a grant from WEDC, the new Co-Innovation Center will operate out of UWM’s Connected Systems Institute, which already helps businesses apply new technologies to increase their productivity.

Microsoft has just six of these Co-Innovation Centers worldwide, with only two in the U.S., and Milwaukee’s will be the first to focus exclusively on manufacturing. The company’s aim is to help small and midsize businesses—which make up the bulk of Wisconsin’s manufacturing base—access the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies that might otherwise be out of their reach.

This creates huge growth opportunities for not just the companies but also their workers, who will be performing higher-value jobs while turning over more routine tasks to AI. If Wisconsin and other states are going to meet their ongoing workforce needs, one of the solutions will most likely involve investing in technology that raises productivity while empowering employees.

The other major development bringing the Wisconsin Idea to life was the launch of the Wisconsin Investment Fund, which will invest in early-stage Wisconsin-based startups. The fund’s initial investment is $100 million, with half coming from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s State Small Business Credit Initiative program and the rest from private investors.

As Governor Evers noted, the Wisconsin Investment Fund will be the biggest public-private investment in Wisconsin startups and entrepreneurs in our state’s history. But that’s just the beginning: As the businesses that receive these investments start to grow, the value of the fund will grow with them, creating new opportunities to help even more businesses expand.

More than half of the fund’s initial investments will go to startups in the field of biohealth and biotechnology, a sector where our state’s lead has been recognized as a Regional Technology Hub by the U.S. Department of Commerce. And, in keeping with the best traditions of the Wisconsin Idea, many of these firms began with research conducted at the University of Wisconsin.

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