Microsoft, Packers to Spend $10M to Create Startup Hub in Green Bay

The NFL’s Green Bay Packers attract tens of thousands of fans from Wisconsin and other states whenever the team plays a home game at Lambeau Field. Now, through a new, $10 million partnership with Microsoft, the Packers are hoping to attract entrepreneurs and tech startups to Green Bay, and develop new products and services there.

The Packers said Thursday that they’ve teamed up with Seattle-based Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to create a venture capital fund, which will invest in graduates of a new startup accelerator the two organizations are launching.

The accelerator, fund, and other innovation-focused programming will be held in a new “TitletownTech” building that will open in the fall of 2018, the team said. It will be located in the Titletown District, which is just west of Lambeau Field. (“Titletown” is a nickname for Green Bay, recognizing the 13 league championships the Packers have won over the years.)

The team said its partnership is aimed at stimulating digital-age economic activity in northeastern Wisconsin, which is known more as a region with lots of paper mills than a hotbed for high-growth startup companies.

“The latest digital tools, technology expertise, and capital are critical to starting and running a successful business in the 21st century,” said Brad Smith, who is Microsoft’s president and also a Wisconsin native, in a prepared statement. “By combining the Green Bay Packers’ deep engagement in this community and our expertise in helping businesses digitally transform, we believe TitletownTech will be a valuable resource for Wisconsin and a model for fostering economic development in other parts of the country.”

The Packers and Microsoft each plan to commit $5 million to TitletownTech by 2022. They will reportedly take equity stakes in companies they invest in out of the new TitletownTech Venture Capital Fund. However, the two organizations said they’ll donate all returns netted by investments the fund makes to charity, or use them to spur economic development. The Packers and Microsoft said they’re the only two organizations that have committed money to the fund, but that they may seek additional financing from outside groups.

Companies selected to participate in the TitletownTech Accelerator will travel to Green Bay and spend 18 weeks working from the still-to-be-constructed building. A press release announcing the Packers-Microsoft partnership did not say whether a startup that goes through the accelerator will be guaranteed an investment from the two organizations, or be required to give up an equity stake. It appears the accelerator will be industry-agnostic, and open to startups from anywhere.

Accelerator participants will receive coaching from a group of mentors, including some Microsoft employees, according to the release. Some coaching sessions with Microsoft programmers and engineers will be held in person, while others might take place by videoconference, the company said.

In addition to the new VC fund and accelerator, the Packers said they’re launching TitletownTech Labs, a program allowing businesses (or teams within businesses) to spend 18 weeks working from the entrepreneurship center “to develop new digital technology products and services.” The program could attract companies from an array of industries, including agriculture, healthcare, insurance, and—yes—paper, the team said.

Microsoft recently selected northeastern Wisconsin as one of six parts of the country where the software giant will seek to foster innovation as part of its TechSpark initiative. As part of the initiative, Microsoft partners with local organizations to try to accelerate economic growth through improved Internet connectivity, classes that teach people digital skills, and other programs.

“Economic development is the key to our region’s future, and Microsoft, with its array of tools and expertise, will help grow new businesses as well as assist our existing companies to use technology to realize greater success,” Mark Murphy, the Packers’ president and CEO, said in a prepared statement.

The Packers said they are working together with Microsoft to design the TitletownTech building. The two organizations did not say how much they expect to spend to construct the facility.

Microsoft and the Packers both have deep pockets. The team said it made a $65.4 million operating profit on revenues of $441.4 million for the fiscal year ending March 31. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s market capitalization is nearly $600 billion.

The TitletownTech announcement comes on the heels of AOL co-founder and entrepreneurship advocate Steve Case’s visit to Lambeau Field. Case and other leaders of Revolution, the venture capital firm he co-founded in 2005, stopped in Green Bay as part of Revolution’s “Rise of the Rest” tour, which promotes emerging innovation hubs.

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