Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
February 2005
Governor Doyle Announces Creation of Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network (WEN)

Regional Centers at UW Campuses in Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College will serve the state's entrepreneurs

Delivering on his pledge to promote entrepreneurship and innovation, Governor Jim Doyle recently announced the creation of the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Network (WEN), a partnership of the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the WiSys Technology Foundation, and the Agricultural Innovation Center, which is receiving $1 million from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

With an unprecedented investment in new jobs for Wisconsin, the Commerce support will create an integrated statewide network to serve entrepreneurs in every part of the state.

"Wisconsin is home to many enterprising young companies that are advancing new technologies," said Governor Doyle. "To parlay this innovation into widespread job creation, the right resources, education, and support systems must be in place."

As explained by Doyle, the WEN partnership will build on the excellent services offered at Wisconsin universities, technical colleges, chambers of commerce and economic development organizations and will link them to four dynamic new regional centers. Regional Center staffs will continue the process of helping firms convert innovative ideas into market successes and act as a vehicle for growth for their local economies.

The WEN regional Centers will be located at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

"Entrepreneurs and small businesses are vitally important to the health and productivity of our local economies," added Doyle. "The talent and resources that will be teamed in this effort are sure to be a critical factor in the success of small firms, and that's great news for not only the Eau Claire region, but all across Wisconsin.

"The Department of Commerce funding will make a tremendous resource even stronger," Doyle continued, "by giving these areas the capacity to help more small businessmen and women succeed in their ventures and create greater economic opportunity in all our communities".

WEN represents the state's first statewide assistance for small businesses at all stages of development and incorporates the services and resources of four leading organizations:

  • University of Wisconsin-Extension - the UW System's statewide small business outreach network, with 13 campus-based Small Business Development Centers.
  • WiSys Technology Foundation - part of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, protecting and licensing inventions created by scientists at 12 UW campuses.
  • Wisconsin Technical College System - the state's network of 16 technical colleges, providing educational opportunities in over 300 occupational fields.
  • Agricultural Innovation Center - the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's newly established hub serving agriculture-related entrepreneurs.

According to UW System President Kevin Reilly, WEN was established to integrate and link existing programs, services, opportunities and connections for small business.

"WEN will provide programs and services to small and emerging businesses, resulting in job creation and retention, business start-ups, expansions and acquisitions; and strengthened linkages with the rich network of resources in the state, "said Reilly. He indicated that key services at WEN will include one-on-one consulting, educational workshops, executive level programs, peer learning, and strategies to assess technologies and access capital. The Commerce funding will also provide WEN with the capability to expand its outreach in providing all of its programs and services into all regions of the state.

Among the many specialized resources the Regional Centers will offer is linking entrepreneurs to other financial award programs under Wisconsin Act 255, the legislation through which WEN was proposed. One new program assists entrepreneurs or small businesses in obtaining professional services for business plan assistance, evaluation of a proposed startup or expansion, or other accelerated support purposes. Award funding will be determined based on the potential for successful achievement of a significant business milestone for client firms.

The new network will be comprised of 25 intake centers, four regional technology-transfer centers, and 26 ag-based counselors. Using a single client management system, WEN members will be better prepared to identify, prioritize, and assist businesses through multiple stages of development. The network is expected to assist more than 10,000 clients during the first year. By seeking out promising business ventures, offering improved services to those clients and integrating support across multiple organizations, WEN is expected to contribute more than $500 million to the state's economy during its first year of operation.

"We don't want brilliant ideas to wither on the vine because someone stopped watering the roots," observed Dan Clancy, interim president of the Wisconsin Technical College System. "Once a small business takes off, we'll use this new network to ensure continued support and attention throughout all the cycles of business growth."

Beginning at the intake centers, counselors will assess clients' intent to grow and their capacity to succeed. Promising clients will be referred to one of the regional centers, where their management team, market size, competitive advantage and other factors will undergo further evaluation. A very small group of select clients will be identified to receive highly personalized attention from the regional centers, to include assistance in gaining access to venture capital and other financial resources. This will continue until the new ventures are self-sufficient and flourishing.

"This is like a baseball coach scouting young players, and putting those with raw talent on the farm team," Doyle concluded. "With expert guidance and support, Wisconsin's most promising entrepreneurs can make it all the way to the big leagues."

Today's announcements are part of a series of initiatives the Governor will outline in the coming weeks as he enters the next phase of his "Grow Wisconsin" plan. Earlier this month, the Governor announced a $1.3 million state investment to help improve the competitive position of Wisconsin's manufacturers and a $750 million state-university biosciences initiative.

- Melanie Fonder, Office of the Governor
- Erica Kauten, UW-Extension, 608-263-7794

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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