George Mosher, Milwaukee Startup Investor & Philanthropist, Has Died

George Mosher, a Milwaukee businessman and one of Wisconsin’s most prolific startup investors, died on Thursday after a fight with pancreatic cancer. He was 79.

A Boston native, Mosher moved to Milwaukee in 1965 after graduating from Harvard University’s business school. He became president of Business and Institutional Furniture, a catalog furniture company that served churches and schools.

A decade after moving to Wisconsin, Mosher and his late wife, Julie, launched their own catalog furniture company called National Business Furniture. Julie, who had taught in the Milwaukee Public and Whitefish Bay school districts, served as the company’s vice president and designed its catalogs. The firm made several acquisitions over the years, including Furniture Online and Mosher’s former employer, Business and Institutional Furniture. National Business Furniture grew to $125 million in annual sales before it was sold in 2006 to K+K America, owned by German firm TAKKT.

After the exit, Mosher became one of the busiest angel investors and entrepreneur mentors in the area. He personally backed more than 250 ventures, mostly based in Milwaukee and Madison, WI. Among the successful exits was Prodesse, a Waukesha, WI-based firm that became a market leader in molecular testing for infectious respiratory diseases like the flu. Prodesse was sold in 2009 to San Diego-based Gen-Probe for $72 million. Former Prodesse CEO Tom Shannon has said the sale price was about 16 times the amount that he, Mosher, and the venture’s other investors poured into the venture.

Mosher’s more recent exits include Madison-based Fishidy, which developed map-based tools to help fishing enthusiasts document and share information. Fishidy was sold last year to Wilsonville, OR-based Flir Systems (NASDAQ: FLIR). The sale price wasn’t revealed by the companies, but Mosher told Xconomy last year that he expected to get back roughly double the $75,000 he invested in Fishidy in 2014.

In a 2013 interview with Xconomy about his angel investing, Mosher said, “My particular reason for doing this is I’ve made some money, and I thought I can help more people by helping businesses get started, rather than philanthropically [giving] some money away.”

Of course, he was also a philanthropist and supported a variety of local nonprofits, including some that support entrepreneurship and local businesses. He served on the boards of BizStarts Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library. Mosher, an Xconomist, was also a co-founding donor to the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, a nonprofit that invests charitable donations into Wisconsin startups that it thinks have the potential to create jobs and strengthen the state economy.

In an e-mail interview, Shannon, who serves as BrightStar’s CEO and was also one of its co-founding donors, remembered Mosher as a sharp and thoughtful businessman, an eager supporter of Wisconsin, and a loving husband.

“When we established BrightStar Wisconsin, it took [Mosher] just 30 minutes to say ‘yes’ to being a co-founder,” Shannon, also an Xconomist, wrote in the e-mail. “He offered a different perspective on most everything, which accounted possibly for his success. If challenged though on his logic he would really be thoughtful and re-think his position.”

Mosher had a playful side and liked to joke around as well. Shannon recalled an evening about a year ago, when Shannon was driving Mosher and fellow angel investors and BrightStar co-founders Jeff Harris and Jeff Rusinow back to Milwaukee from a Wisconsin Technology Council dinner event in Madison. There was heavy rain that night, and “the ride was a bit hairy,” Shannon said. Mosher joked that if they got into an accident, half of Milwaukee’s angel investing community would be “wiped out.” Mosher “kept us entertained for the whole ride,” Shannon added.

But Shannon said his “actual most lasting memory” of Mosher is the care that he and his wife showed for each other. The pair were married for 50 years; Julie passed away in 2017. Shannon shared the Moshers’ table at charitable events a number of times, and he was touched by the way the couple would repeatedly acknowledge each other and hold hands. “It was really precious,” Shannon said.

“George was just everybody’s favorite,” Shannon said. “Our flower arrangement simply says, ‘George, you were just the best.’ And he was.”

Mosher’s visitation and memorial service will take place Monday morning. Click here for more information on the service and memorial gifts.

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