State senators from both sides of the aisle told an audience of entrepreneurs and investors they're optimistic about the chances for passing a bill next year that will pump state and private money into young Wisconsin companies to help create jobs.
"The time (for such a fund) is absolutely right. Because every other state around us is doing this kind of investment with positive outcomes," state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said in an interview.
Darling and state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, were on a panel at the Early Stage Symposium at Monona Terrace.
Attempts to pass a proposed $400 million venture capital bill in the last legislative session died because an agreement couldn't be reached over how the program would be structured.
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said a survey of 53 Wisconsin investors, conducted by the council in late September and early October, showed strong backing for a plan that would offer support to both early-stage and more mature companies.
They favored a fund that would include $200 million in state funds and $400 million — a two-to-one match — from private investors, including some from outside Wisconsin, for a total of $600 million to be used over a six-year period.
"The bill will be structured where the state is made whole. For every dollar we put in, the assumption is we'll get that money back" and put it into a long-term fund for future investments, Darling said.
Darling, reappointed co-chairwoman of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday, said no proposal has been drafted yet.
Cullen cautioned against unrealistic expectations. "Jobs are not going to be created the second after we pass this bill," he said. "There are going to be failures but there are going to be significant successes."
Tim Keane, founder of the Marquette Golden Angels Investors and co-founder of Keane D'Souza Venture Capital, said $600 million would make a big difference to young companies. "All you need is one Epic and you're done," he said, referring to electronic medical records company Epic Systems. Founded in Madison in 1979, Epic now has about 6,000 employees and 2011 revenue of $1.2 billion.
About 500 people are expected to attend the two-day Early Stage Symposium, which concludes Wednesday.
In the forum for showing off promising companies to potential investors, 26 companies made seven-minute presentations to the group on Tuesday, including 19 from the Madison area or with local ties. Sixteen companies, with eight from the Madison area, will take the stage for shorter "elevator pitches" Wednesday.
Keane said the best opportunities to invest in good entrepreneurial businesses are in the Midwest. "Because there are so few people paying attention to these companies," he said.