ESS Panel: Midwest Has ‘Overlooked’ Opportunities

by Brian Lee

2017 ESS Plenary

Startups in the Midwest are becoming more and more attractive to investors, but they still need to evolve to get more notice, according to a panel of investors during the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium held Thursday at the Monona Terrace.

The seven investors acknowledged that the Midwest has startup ideas that haven’t yet been commercialized.

“(The Mid-West) is the place where there is a disconnect between opportunity and investments,” Victor Gutwein of m25 Group said.

Gutwein explained that as an investor, he’s seeking “overlooked opportunities” that don’t exist on the coast but do exist in Wisconsin.

One explanation is that the Midwest’s startup ecosystem is not as mature as those on the coasts. Jackie DiMonte of Hyde Park Ventures said she doesn’t see the “jump start”–in which an entrepreneur has an exit, starts another company or becomes an investor–prevalent in the Midwest, outside of Chicago.

However, the Midwest is heading in the right direction, according to Doug Monieson of Hyde Park Angels, who said, “we’re seeing a lot more second- and third-time entrepreneurs.”

Research from the Wisconsin Technology Council found that in 2016, startups raised $276 million (up from $209 million in 2015), 53 companies raised at least $1 million and the average deal size increased 25 percent to $2 million.

For early-stage companies to further attract investors, Will Colegrove of Ekistic Ventures recommended that startups in the Midwest change their mindset about not being too egotistical, as he prefers “the people in Silicon Valley (who) aren’t afraid of swinging for the fences and flaming out.”

Complementing that thought, Alex Shortle of Meridian Street added, “we’re looking for earth-shattering, market-changing ideas, and I don’t hear (those) in the Mid-West.”

The Early Stage Symposium began on Wednesday and concludes today.