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Opportunity abounds in Milwaukee

Opportunity abounds in Milwaukee

Originally published in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel on September 27, 2013

By Dan Isenberg

We all know these past few years have been tough for many American cities, and urban pain has not left Milwaukee unscathed. But since helping launch Scale Up Milwaukee in March with an ever-expanding number of committed partners (Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, American Express OPEN, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), I keep seeing opportunity.

Recently, I interviewed Jerry Jendusa, a Wisconsin native, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus and the founding executive of EMTEQ — a $100 million venture that has grown at a steady clip even during the recession and becoming a global competitor. Wouldn’t 20 EMTEQs in the Milwaukee region change the equation entirely?

I saw opportunity again recently when we kicked off six weeks of intense work with 12 ambitious, growth-driven Milwaukee businesses in our pilot Scalerator. The Scalerator — an accelerated training program for growth-driven ventures with anywhere between $500,000 to $10 million in revenues — is just one of a dozen or so activities that comprise Scale Up Milwaukee, an ambitious project to enrich the Milwaukee region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Scale Up Milwaukee’s goal is to help regional stakeholders rekindle Milwaukee’s entrepreneurial culture that years ago created so many leaders: Badger Meter Inc., Manpower Inc., Kohl’s Corp., Kohler Co., Harley-Davidson Inc. and Briggs & Stratton Corp., to mention a few. Scale Up Milwaukee’s mission is to help growth-driven entrepreneurs expand their revenues by fostering growth-driven social norms, growth-driven institutions, growth-driven education and growth-driven leadership. That means bringing together public and private leaders, entrepreneurs, universities, banks, investors and institutions from across the region to work together for the sole purpose of growth.

There is no reason I can think of that the future Harley-Davidsons are not out there right now, and with the right encouragement, role-models, self-confidence and knowledge will grow to similar market leadership. There is no reason I can think of, with all of the successful financial institutions and family businesses in the region, that there is not enough know-how, management talent and capital to fuel the next generation of Kohlers.

We started Scale Up Milwaukee by listening, engaging and communicating. One of the frustrations we heard — among many — was the mismatch between resources and opportunity. So now we are responding by bringing together dozens of the institutions that make money by fueling growth: Bankers, corporate lenders, angel investors and others interested in investing and in doing well by doing good, by ensuring Milwaukee’s future with their own investment success. That’s one ingredient in cultivating a healthy and self-sustaining entrepreneurship ecosystem.

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue rolling out programs of this kind, such as by inviting entrepreneurs all across the size spectrum to come together to share insights about the ins and outs of partnering for mutual benefit in a corporate venture forum. American Express, our founding sponsor, will be joined by GE Healthcare, IBM, Silicon Valley Bank Midwest and others to help facilitate an ongoing deep dialog about how partnerships might lay the groundwork for joint development, market expansion, innovation and other opportunities for growth.

The work is just starting. You don’t foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem or its accompanied growth overnight. Each week that passes, we engage an ever-growing circle of regional stakeholders who share a common belief in Milwaukee’s potential to support the scale up of a dozen or so future EMTEQs each year and help Milwaukee complete the great comeback that other cities around the country — and the world — will be invited to learn from, and contribute to, as an example of entrepreneurial growth and success.

People in the region here seem ready for a positive change. According to American Express OPEN research, 87% of Wisconsin entrepreneurs expect to grow over the next six months — we know from research in many fields that expectations of growth are not a bad predictor of it.

I encourage all of you who believe in growth to join Scale Up Milwaukee, grow with all of its partners and help the city achieve entrepreneurial excellence that will shine a light on the path to regional prosperity. Working together in a coalition for high growth entrepreneurship, I personally believe that Milwaukee has the potential to deliver the growth foreshadowed by its past and the success it deserves in its future.

Daniel Isenberg is a Babson Executive Education professor of entrepreneurship practice, CEO of Entrepreneurship Policy Advisors and the architect and facilitator of Scale Up Milwaukee efforts. He is the author of “Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value” (Harvard, 2013). Isenberg was a Harvard professor for 11 years.