Microsoft Ups Its Wisconsin Investments, Backs New Gener8tor Program

Microsoft is deepening its efforts to help Wisconsin foster more high-growth startups. The Seattle-based tech giant’s latest move in the Badger State is a new partnership with Gener8tor, an organization based in the state that runs training programs for early-stage companies, and invests in them.

Gener8tor said Wednesday that its collaboration with Microsoft is aimed at fueling the growth of startups headquartered in northeastern Wisconsin, or that have roots there. Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.

The announcement comes less than a month after Microsoft said it was teaming up with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers to spend $10 million over the next five years to create a new venture capital fund, startup accelerator, and other innovation-focused programs in Green Bay, WI.

The Packers-affiliated accelerator is separate from the local programs Gener8tor recently began holding as part of its partnership with Microsoft, said Gener8tor’s Maggie Brickerman.

With support from Microsoft and other partners, including local universities and nonprofits, Gener8tor plans to hold two of its free, seven-week programs for early-stage businesses—a series known as gBETA—each year in northeastern Wisconsin, Brickerman said. Each gBETA class will have five companies, she said.

gBETA helps entrepreneurs with things like pitching their products, adding users and customers, and raising money from investors. Unlike its core accelerator program, Gener8tor does not invest in or take equity in startups that participate in gBETA.

“Emerging companies need more than just a great idea to take off,” said Brad Smith, who is Microsoft’s president and also a Wisconsin native, in a prepared statement. “They need great coaching, a strong network of partners, and financial investors. gBETA’s accelerator program gives startups the boost they need to be successful, ultimately creating more jobs in northeast Wisconsin.”

In early October, Microsoft selected northeastern Wisconsin as one of six areas in the U.S. where the company will seek to foster innovation through its TechSpark initiative. As part of the initiative, Microsoft partners with local organizations, with the goal of accelerating economic growth by providing faster Internet speeds, classes that teach people digital skills, and other programs. Beyond the shared objective of creating jobs, there’s no direct affiliation between Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative and the work it’s doing with Gener8tor.

Microsoft and the Packers said last month that they’ll donate all returns netted by investments their new TitletownTech Venture Capital Fund to charity, or use them to spur economic development. That commitment, coupled with the fact that gBETA is an equity-free accelerator, suggests that Microsoft’s support for entrepreneurs in Wisconsin is not aimed at making money for the company.

The inaugural gBETA Northeast Wisconsin program kicked off in October and will run through December, Brickerman said. Gener8tor is running the program out of The Grind, a coworking space in Oshkosh, WI, she added. The plan is to enroll two classes in 2018—one in Appleton, WI, and the other in Green Bay, Brickerman said.

The Packers said the new VC fund and accelerator they’re working with Microsoft to create will operate from a new building next to the team’s home stadium, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018. Brickerman said it’s too early to say whether Gener8tor will run its Green Bay gBETA program from the planned TitletownTech building.

Gener8tor’s accelerators tend to be industry-agnostic. The organization’s portfolio companies sell everything from enterprise software to smoothie makers. In a news release announcing its collaboration with Microsoft, Gener8tor mentioned manufacturing, agriculture, and paper production as industries that people traditionally associate with northeastern Wisconsin.

gBETA, launched in 2015, has also held sessions in three other Wisconsin cities—Madison, Milwaukee, and Beloit—as well as in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area.

Adrienne Palm, who’s serving as director of gBETA Northeast Wisconsin, joined Gener8tor’s team in July. She previously directed the Pulse Young Professionals Network, part of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, according to her LinkedIn profile. (Green Bay, Oshkosh, and Appleton are all part of a multi-county region known as the Fox Valley.)

In addition to Microsoft, supporters of gBETA Northeast Wisconsin include the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Business Success Center, UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin School of Business, the Venture Center at Fox Valley Technical College, the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp., and WiSys, a nonprofit foundation that supports technology development.

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