Wanted: Money for entrepreneurs

The Wisconsin State Journal
Published: May 22, 2012

Everybody loves the entrepreneur, the little guy or gal with the big idea who launches and expands a business. Politicians of every stripe correctly tout start-up companies as key to creating more jobs.

Yet entrepreneurs can seem almost mythical during a challenging economy. Where and who are these creative risk-takers?

Below are some tangible examples. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. just certified these and several more entrepreneurial businesses for Qualified New Business Venture tax credits. That means private investors in these companies will be eligible for 25 percent credits on the amount they invest, assuming the investors have state tax liabilities.

State leaders haven't done enough to encourage private investment in early-stage Wisconsin companies. Many states, including Minnesota, have been more aggressive in luring private dollars.

Wisconsin's Qualified New Business Venture tax credits, which began in 2005 with bipartisan support, show the potential. More than 100 small companies have benefited, with the state spending $41 million in credits to leverage more than four times that much in private investment over the last seven years.

Four of the latest enterprises eligible for the credits include:

  • Renwig Custom of Whitewater. Its young founders added robotics to tube amplifiers so they operate like digitally controlled amps — without the loss of the rich tube sound many musicians prefer.
  • Imaging Biometrics of Elm Grove. It offers technology for early detection of blood patterns associated with brain tumors.
  • 1Engineering and Manufacturing of Neenah. It sells systems to improve the efficiency of oil extraction and refining.
  • NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes of Madison (with plans for a plant in Beloit). The company produces medical isotopes for diagnostic procedures — without the need for uranium, so radioactive waste is reduced.

Wisconsin has a lot of entrepreneurs but not enough private dollars behind them. Tom Still, who leads the Wisconsin Technology Council, a nonprofit science and technology booster, calls the Qualified New Business Venture credits "a remarkable success." The annual average salary of workers hired by companies in the program is $83,000.

The Tech Council expects more than 400 people to attend its 10th Wisconsin Entrepreneurs' Conference in Milwaukee on June 5-6. Let's keep and accelerate the momentum and bipartisan support for young, innovative companies across Wisconsin.